Soul Sister’s ‘Gem Sessions’ : A ‘diamond in the rough’
9th September 2013 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
When Melissa Weber aka DJ Soul Sister noticed that noted modern jazz vibraphonist and drummer Warren Wolf and his group Wolfpack was going to be playing in Lafayette in early September but not making it to New Orleans she was justifiably upset. It just didn’t make any sense.
“When I see artists playing in Houston and Atlanta and this and that, it hurts my feelings that I can’t see them here,” Weber complains. “If they’re touring, and they’re playing close by, there is no reason why the birthplace of jazz should not be one of their mandatory stops.”So, rather than just beef about it, Weber decided to take action. The happy result is that Warren Wolf and Wolfpack will perform at the Little Gem Saloon on Thursday, September 12. The show, which will be presented in the club’s 85-seat, upstairs Ramp Room, acts as the kickoff to the new, monthly series, the Gem Sessions with Weber acting as curator.
“For years, I’ve been talking about the lack of national jazz acts performing in New Orleans,” says Weber who has been successful creating a stir dejaying events as the hip Soul Sister. “This is the way I make my own parties happen. I want to present another thing – this is just an extension of that. The musicians all want to come here.”
Weber, a soul, groove aficionado who confesses to just recently getting into modern jazz, had good eyes when spotting Wolf’s arrival in Lafayette. While the mufti-instrumentalist isn’t necessarily a household name, his creds are impressive and his talents limitless.
Unknowingly, in keeping with the theme of the Gem Sessions, the renowned bassist Christian McBride, with whom Wolf performs, tours and records, once declared, “ Warren is a gem.”
The date at the Little Gem Saloon, at 445 South Rampart Street, a historic locale in New Orleans jazz history, marks the first time Wolf, 34, will perform as leader in this city. A hugely talent artist, Warren enjoys many connections to the city, recording and playing with our well-known modern jazz purveyors such as trumpeters Nicholas Payton and Wynton Marsalis (with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) and drummer Adonis Rose.
Wolf was genuinely excited that he could dip down to New Orleans to perform here as most of his gigs take him from the East Coast to the West Coast with stops in the Midwest and voyages to Europe.
“I’ve just become a leader in the last two years,” says Wolf whose work now includes tours as leader, with McBride and the SF Jazz Collective.
It could be perceived that the popularity of the vibes is on the rise in the jazz world. That may be due locally to the success of New Orleans vibraphonist Jason Marsalis, who, like Wolf, also excels on drums, and James Westfall. Nationally renowned vibraphonist Stefon Harris has also gained a loyal following at his numerous performances in the city.
“It’s popular as far as fans go,” agrees Wolf. “You have these bright, colorful mallets and they’re hitting this instrument and out comes a very pretty sound. It’s (the vibes) still uncommon though because in school you don’t hear, ‘Why don’t you try vibes?’”
Wolf, who performs with his touring band that includes bassist Kris Funn and drummer Billy Williams, both of whom are heard on his latest album, Wolfgang, and pianist Alex Brown. As he always does when leading his own group, Wolf will be playing vibes. But you never know about this self-proclaimed “entertainer.” He might move over to the drums or the piano as he’s also a master of these instruments.
“I like to bring out the drums as well as the piano on gigs as more of a special attraction,” he says. “To me, it adds to the show.”
Being a drummer himself, giving grit to such stars as eclectic pianist Robert Glasper, Wolf enjoys having a percussionist that stands out such as Williams. “I like to have drummers that play as much as me,” he declares. “When the drums come alive, I become alive even more. The way I play vibes very much comes from my drumming. I bring a rhythmic attack to the vibes.”
On Wolf’s first, heralded self-titled album on Mack Avenue, he says, he went for a no holds barred approach. His latest CD, Wolfgang, displays the more laid-back, melodic and classical side of Wolf, which, he says is an attempt to reach out melodically to the every day people. At his gig at the Little Gem Saloon, he promises to offer the material and vibe of both recordings.
One of Warren Wolf’s goals is to try to record with all of his favorite musicians. He’s well on his way having been in the studio with the great, already missed, pianist Mulgrew Miller, killer drummers Jeff “Tain” Watts and Lewis Nash and more. “Right on top of my list are (pianists) Chic Corea and Herbie Hancock,” says the ambitious, energetic and superlative musician, Warren Wolf. He will also share his knowledge with students at a Masters’ Class at Loyola University on Wednesday, September 11.
“I love playing with my own band,” Wolf says in appreciation of having the opportunity to bring his touring group to the Little Gem Saloon. “It brings out the fire. You can truly hear what my sound is like in context.”
Show times for Thursday’s “Gem Sessions” event with Warren Wolf and Wolfpack are 7:30 and 10 p.m. For more information go to www.littlegemsaloon.com.
Soul on Soul – Birthday Shout Out
Soul Sister’s diggin’ her jazz yet lovin’ her funk, groove and soul and that’s the way she’ll celebrate her birthday at Tipitina’s on Friday, September 13. Her main man, the Godfather of Soul James Brown will be her get down focus when spinning her rare grooves that open the show at 10 pm. The killer band that follows with special guest bassist Christian McBride — wow, outside of his jazz realm — pianist/vocalist Nigel Hall, one of this city’s newest “adoptees,” the wonderful guitarist Derwin “Big D” Perkins, one of pianist Jon Cleary’s Absolute Monster Gentlemen, saxophonist Roderick Paulin and more will keep the birthday party and the JB groove going. Showtime is 10 p.m.
This article originally published in the September 9, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.