Friday, September 26, 2014

Holly Hofmann. Low Life

Holly Hofmann.  Low Life.
Capri Records, 2014.  Holly Hofmann:

Holly Hofmann and I have at least one thing in common.  We both started on the flutophone as kids.  She, however, went on to become a renowned jazz flautist, while I, well never mind.  Hofmann was born in Painesville to a musical family (her father was a jazz guitarist), and went on to study classical music at CIM and later, Northern Colorado.  Among her teachers was Maurice Sharp of the Cleveland Orchestra.  She came to jazz in the mid-1980s, and put out her first album, Take Note, in 1989.  This is her twelfth release (I think), and her first exclusively with the alto flute.  She began playing it in concert as a change up to the usual C flute, and got positive responses.  With the urging of Jeff Hamilton, she put this collection of tracks together.  

The alto flute has some limitations.  It is lower in register, with a limited range.  That makes it hard to do some things, but opens up a whole new world in terms of subtlety of playing and richness of tone. Hofmann has the ability to express herself remarkably well with her instrument and does so with considerable flair here.  Her choice of songs is excellent, her compatriots on the album play impeccably, and the result is a fascinating excursion in straight ahead jazz ensemble work.  

The tunes are a mix of upbeat numbers and ballads drawn from all over, including songs by Pat Metheny, John Williams, and Ray Noble, as well as two by John Clayton, one by Anthony Wilson, and one by Hofmann herself.  While everything is beautifully and tastefully played, I have to say that for me, the most effective piece is “The Very Thought of You,” the old Noble standard.  Taken at a leisurely pace, the alto flute does wonders with the melody, while Mike Wofford accompanies her, taking a solo in the middle that is simply delightful.  “Touch the Fog” is also a lusciously expansive exploration by John Clayton, very soulful and sweet.  Clayton, of course, gets a bass solo in there, nicely done.  

I also enjoyed the more upbeat tracks.  On “Jack of Hearts,” an irresistible swing/bop, Hofmann trades solos with Anthony Wilson, the guitar nicely complementing the sound of the alto.  Wilson also gets in a great solo in “Grow (for Dick Oatts),” a more gently swinging tune.  “Cedar Would” is another Clayton tune, and it does the job similarly to “Jack of Hearts.”  Wilson solos again, but with more fire, and Clayton and Hamilton trade off in the middle.  “Soul-Leo” has a sort-of Brazilian feel, but with a bouncy, soulful quality that makes my head bob.  Wofford gets lots of time here to good effect (I did not realize that Wofford and Hofmann are married--not important, but an interesting tidbit).

The group finishes up with the ravishing “Farmer’s Trust,” a Pat Metheny tune that works as a fitting end to a very fine album.  I recommend this music highly to fans of jazz flute, but also anyone who likes the gentle side of jazz.  This is rich material.

Personnel:  Holly Hofmann (alto flute), Mike Wofford (piano), John Clayton (bass), Jeff Hamilton (drums), Anthony Wilson (guitar).
Tracks:  Jack of Heart, Touch of the Fog, Grow (for Dick Oatts), Lumière de la Vie, Cedar Would, The Very Thought of You, Make Me Rainbows, Soul-Leo, Farmer’s Trust.

Jeff Wanser

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