Sadly, the album was occasioned by the death of Torff’s childhood friend who passed at the age of 50 years. To deepen the sadness, guest trumpeter Lew Soloff would pass away only two weeks after this recording, making this his final recording.
Joining Bruce Torff on the recording is the brilliant Joel Frahm on tenor and soprano saxophones, the exquisite Pete McCann on guitars, the solid Ben Wittman on drums and the afore-mentioned Lew Soloff on trumpet. Torff himself handles the kicking bass duties with the keyboards.
Torff explains of his composing style, “I usually hear a groove first, either a bass line or a drum lick. I then build layers of melodies and voicings. The main thing is that the music has to be both accessible and adventurous.”
What you hear on this album is proof of that approach.
Enceladus opens with brief piano intro then the groove kicks right in. The vibes-keyboard is a cool sound with percussion and keyboard providing the groove. Joel Frahm gets the early solo on tenor sax. Torff solos with the spacey keys but the whole theme is rounded up nicely with tenor sax and keyboards carrying the theme to the end.
Down the Line is introduced with the piano and acoustic guitar and the drums setting the rhythm. Pete McCann then turns loose with the electric guitar over the funky rhythms. Joel Frahm solos distinctly before McCann takes the hand-off again. The dialogue between them is fascinating stuff and the very essence of Jazz.
Torff calls McCann “an idea factory” and his varied expressions here and throughout the album show you why. His choices are brilliant and the delivery…well, it is Pete McCann, after all.
Wave of Silence is a beautiful, moving piece. The guitar and keys are in fine unison, opening the way for Frahm’s soulful improvisation. Frahm also appeared on Torff’s first album from 2013, Look Again. It is clear to see why Torff brought him back.
That distinctive groove of drums and bass line jumps from the start of Tribal Function. Frahm is again in the heart of the melody but Torff enters with the hot hand and explodes melody. Not to be outdone, Frahm sets explosives of his own. Torff, Frahm and McCann have a bit of a shout chorus to carry the track out. Fun stuff.
This I Promise You is enough to break your heart. It is tone-poem of sincerity and comfort. Lew Soloff creates a sweet and affectionate declaration of support in the midst of loss. Frahm answers in equal measure in one of the most lyrical pieces on the album. The melody sticks in your head. This was the very last piece recorded by Lew Soloff.
The tempo changes with Well of Tears picks up where Tribal Function left off. Frahm and McCann get in early. The groove is cool and approachable. Frahm’s solo is loose but well-phrased. Torff’s keyboard solo is developed coolly and expressively. I love the movement of the piece, gliding effortlessly and immediately between Frahm, Torff and McCann.
Beginning of the End is beautifully melodic piece with a soft swing and open spaces for lovely solos from Frahm and Torff. McCann’s backdrop acoustic guitar for the acoustic piano makes for gorgeous lines. The slow and thoughtful interlude accentuates the relief of the Jobim-like melodies of the choruses. Gorgeous.
Don’t be scared but next is The Last Dispatch from the Road to Hell. Full of the requisite good intentions, the song actually makes good on its promises. Frahm gives his only soprano sax solo performance of the album here. Locked in with the programmed drums and keyboards the groove is accentuated by the cross-currents of Frahm’s soprano sax. McCann gives a bit of crunch in the background. Smokin’ piece!
Memoriam was the first composition Torff wrote after hearing the news of his friend’s passing. It carries the sound of more elegy than eulogy. The grief is evident but it does not surrender itself to the pain. Rather, the piece is a celebration of a life and not the agony of a death.
Frahm’s tenor sax and McCann’s acoustic guitar carry the memorable melody together between them. It carries a Brazilian swing, reminding you of the beautiful Luis Banfa melodies. Beautifully rich.
Once and for All carries the same Brazilian touch and groove. Everyone is aboard for this incredible work. Frahm’s tenor sax, McCann’s acoustic guitar, Wittman sitting solidly at drums and Torff works some of his most melancholy, even haunting, piano work on the album. This was one to be played and replayed.
The album is closed out with Early Sunday. Lew Soloff’s trumpet with the acoustic guitar and the distinctive, percussive piano is gorgeous. Soloff’s tonality is intoxicating and McCann switches to electric guitar in sweet transformation. McCann picks up the solo in perfect tone and phrasing. Torff returns with piano before letting Soloff’s trumpet—and indeed Soloff himself—fade beautifully and brightly away.
The album becomes a farewell to two friends but it remains, as said before, a celebration of them more than a burial of them.
Bruce Torff is a masterful and innovative—perhaps even intuitive—composer who builds upon what has gone before without simply recreating it. He goes after the groove and he put the right players in place to brilliantly execute his vision. All of the artists on his album have made plain his vision, a vision of love and remembrance that he allows us to share.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl