Jan 31, 2019
The story of The Seasons, Ben Wendel’s fine CD released late last year, is absolutely fascinating. It’s a story of artistic discovery and whimsy, and it ends with a top-notch band playing top-notch music.
It begins in 2015, when saxophonist-bassoonist-composer Wendel heard a set of twelve piano pieces written and released in a music magazine each month by Tchaikovsky in 1876. Inspired by this idea of subscription oriented art, he composed and released twelve original jazz chamber duets – one a month - in video format on YouTube with modern luminaries such as Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Gilad Hekselman, Eric Harland, Matt Brewer, Julian Lage, Ambrose Akinmusire, among others.
Fast forward to 2018. Wendel has the rare opportunity to be in residence at the Village Vanguard in New York for a week. Having never recorded or released commercially the 12 pieces of music making up the song-cycle, he decided to reach out to a number of musicians who participated in the video project. The result – an all-star group now called The Seasons Band, and featuring Aaron Parks (piano), Gilad Hekselman (guitar), Matt Brewer (bass) and Eric Harland (drums). The music in quintet form was so compelling that the five went right from that run of Vanguard shows to the recording studio.
Using the video versions of the 12 tunes as a leaping off points, the group uses their great individual talents to make The Seasons a group effort. Whether it is Harland working his rhythmic magic on difficult time signatures (“May” is in 9/8) or Parks making tunes either be contemplative (“December”) or joyous (“April”), there is much to admire here. Wendel, who plays both sax and bassoon on the recording, knows when to take off and when to let the band cook along, which he does with great success.
Podcast 65_ is my conversation with Ben Wendel, where we discuss the genesis of The Seasons, the run of touring dates this group has scheduled, and what his “other group”, Kneebody has planned for this year (hint: a lot!). Musical selections include “May” and “September” from The Seasons.