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‘Wolff & Clark Expedition 2' Spends Two Months Near Top of Jazz Radio Chart; New Coverage Runs via AXS/Examiner, JazzWeekly, DrumHead Magazine, more
(Published: June 01, 2015)

May 29, 2015

‘Wolff & Clark Expedition 2' Spends Two Months Near Top of Jazz Radio Chart; New Coverage Runs via AXS/Examiner, JazzWeekly, DrumHead Magazine, more

With two months near the top of the Jazz Radio Charts and fresh coverage running via AXS/Examiner (in-depth interview, below,) JazzWeekly (rave review by George Harris) and DrumHead Magazine (terrific CD review, preceding upcoming multi-page feature) and more, respected co-band leaders Michael Wolff (piano) and Mike Clark (drums) continue to celebrate their acclaimed album Wolff & Clark Expedition 2, recently released on Random Act Records. The two legendary jazz performers, known for their wit, inventiveness and remarkable chops, have mined the talents of luminaries Christian McBride and Wallace Roney on the new CD, as well as young bassist Daryl Johns and rising star saxophonist Hailey Niswanger (who was recently featured by NPR).

AXS Interview: Michael Wolff & Mike Clark talk about their latest 'Expedition'
By Laurie Fanelli May 13, 2015

Wolff & Clark Expedition 2 , the new album from veteran musicians Michael Wolff (piano) and Mike Clark (drums), is rich with original compositions, Jazz hits and familiar Pop tunes. The recent release received a rave 4.5 star review from DownBeat critic, Bill Milkowski, and quickly soared to No. 3 on the Jazz radio charts. AXS got a chance to learn more about their songwriting process, creative partnership and what it's like working with legends in the world of music and beyond.
Wolff wrote three compositions on the album, "Mulgrew," "Clark Bar" and "Stray." "When Mulgrew Miller died I was really moved," he explained. "He and I shared growing up in Memphis, and he always had the Blues in his playing, no matter how modern he played. I had a duo piano series around 10 years ago, and I was fortunate enough to have Mulgrew as my guest one night. He played a lot on his own and we played a lot of duo that night. It was very comfortable and seriously swinging. So I decided to name 'Mulgrew' after him as a dedication to him and the soulfulness of his person and his music." Wolff goes on to explain that "Stray" was inspired by thoughts of the "great composer Billy Strayhorn" and "Clark Bar" was composed in "a whirling dervish fashion," for Clark to play off of.
Clark took time to share some background on how Nelson Mandela inspired the tune "Mandiba." "We were talking about doing something in a new direction and how people have changed the world, even one at a time," he said. "Then Mr. Mandela's name came up right away along with Malcolm X, which I had been reading the new biography by Marable, and M.L.K. We put the tune together with Nelson Mandela in mind and Scott Elias recommended we name it 'Mandiba.' Wallace [Roney] is so great on that track and it swung from the top. Most all tunes are one take."
Both men were extremely generous with their time, providing insight into their solo efforts as well as their musical collaboration, which has been running strong since the 1970s.
Wolff on Ornette Coleman:
"I loved the Ornette Coleman song 'Invisible' that I had from a very early Ornette album that had a piano on it, which much of his later music didn't. I transcribed 'Invisible' and Mike and I learned it. We mostly played everything in rehearsal just duo, imagining the other instrumentation. We eventually decided to play a couple of duo songs on the album, and 'Invisible' just seemed to work. But, to be honest, I never figured out the exact chord changes on the bridge, so when we play it I always just make it up as I go along. So it always develops in a different way."
Clark on their Wolff & Clark Expedition 2 collaborators - Christian McBride, Daryl Johns, Wallace Roney and Hailey Niswanger:
Working with Mr McBride makes it so I don't have to mind the store or baby sit. He swings so hard that all I have to do is create. I have played with him quite a bit so I know what to expect. I love playing with Wallace as he hears the totality and brings it every time. He listens to the drums and knows what drummers are doing, so the conversation is always top shelf. Hailey and Daryl play at the top and are very exciting to play with. They both bring new ideas to the table and I love playing with them both, great spirit, big ears, tons of swing, funk and phrasing. I have played with almost everyone in jazz and all of these people are at the top of their game.
Wolff on his time as the musical director for "The Arsenio Hall Show":
I went to Paramount everyday to work on getting together musicians to audition to decide on the instrumentation of the small five piece band Arsenio wanted to have. We needed a super flexible band that could authentically play every kind of pop music from Country and Western to Heavy Metal to Jazz and R&B and Hip-Hop, which was crossing over to all young people. I knew I wanted John B. Williams on bass, as he and I had played together with Nancy Wilson for many years, and he and Arsenio were already friends. Arsenio agreed so we didn't audition bassists.
We auditioned a lot of drummers, and really they were all great. We ended up with the great jazz drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. At that time, in 1989, it was unique to have a woman drummer, and Terri Lyne takes no prisoners. She is one of the greats. I had a friend I knew from the Bay Area, Peter Maunu, who was well-versed in all styles of guitar playing and could also play banjo and violin. A super talented musician and great guy.
Before I was involved, Arsenio had met with keyboardist/composer Starr Parodi, who was quite young in her early-twenties. Arsenio was interested in Starr as musical director, but I don't think Starr was ready for all that responsibility then. But, she was perfect for the keyboard gig, so we hired her. Not only did we get a musically high-level band, but we had a charismatic band that looked fantastic on TV. Each musician had their own look and feel and sense of integrity that came across on TV.
Clark on playing opposite Miles Davis with Herbie Hancock :
"We played opposite Miles one night and we were really getting it on and Miles appeared on the side of the drum rise on stage. He started cursing at Paul and I, like, 'YOU FUNKY ASS MF'S ...YOU NASTY DOG ASS MF'S...YOU MF'S ..YOU SOME FUNKY MF'S,' then he was gone. After the show Herbie said, 'Man he was really diggin' you and Paul.' I, being green to the scene said, in a "Leave it to Beaver" voice, 'Oh he liked you, too, Herbie!" Hancock said, 'Naw man, it's OK. He was diggin' you cats!'"
Wolff on Clint Eastwood and Cal Tjader:
"Because of being a traveling musician, I have been lucky to make friends with a lot of very interesting people. Clint Eastwood is a big jazz fan and always came to hear Cal Tjader when I played with him. He and I got to know each other a little bit and, a couple of years ago, I did a Cal Tjader tribute band at Monterey Jazz Fest. The night before Monterey, Clint asked us to play a private concert at his golf club, Tehama, and we did. Clint said come play golf here anytime, and I said I was free the next day, so I got a tee time in the morning and played before our gig. Luckily, I played the gig better than I played the course."
Clark on his drumming being used as samples:
"As far as sampling goes I wasn't paid for my work. I say, if you can't find middle C on the piano or play a note, then pay those that can if you use their art. We like to get paid just the same as people who sample or steal do. Can you imagine them not getting paid for their work? So at the end of the day...I dig the cred, but I'd rather have the bread!"
Wolff on the possibility of Wolff & Clark Expedition 3:
"Mike Clark and I are already beginning to discuss Expedition 3. Just batting around ideas so we can make another cohesive burning album that maintains interest throughout."
Wolff & Clark Expedition 2 by Wolff & Clark Expedition was released earlier this year via Random Act Records. Click here to pick-up the album and here to follow Wolff & Clark Expedition on Facebook. Keep reading AXS for more music news, reviews and exclusive interviews.

By George Harris 5/11/15

Pianist Michael Wolff and drummer Mike Clark continue their expedition to find the Northwest Passage along with Christian McBride-Daryl Jones/b, Hailey Niswanger/sax and Wallace Roney/tp through a collection of impressive originals and clever covers. Brilliant choices of material abound: The band swings with Niswanger's sax on a hip "Sunshine Of Your Love" while you're gonna raise your eyebrows in joy at the brilliant take of Prince's "1999." Wallace Roney's horn glows on an assertive "A Night In Tunisia" and Ornette Coleman's "Invisible" gets torn apart log a kitten with catnip. The trio shows it's debt to all things Spherical with a takes of Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud" and "Monk's Dream" bouncing with ebullience. The two leaders display deft interplay on a percussive read of "Gingerbread Boy" while more simpatico moments are spotlighted on "Mulgrew." Impressive small group workout on a variety of levels.

4.5 star CD review in the new issue of DownBeat (courtesy of veteran critic Bill Milkowski):

More about the album and artists, excerpted from the band's Radio One-Sheet: W&C2 features bassist CHRISTIAN McBRIDE, as well as young bassist DARYL JOHNS, trumpet giant WALLACE RONEY and rising jazz star saxophonist HAILEY NISWANGER, EXPEDITION 2 includes tunes from Monk, Ornette Coleman, Prince, Cream, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Heath and Johnny Carisi, as well as formidable originals by Wolff and Clark. The leaders sizzle on two Piano/Drums duets on Tracks 7 & 11. Invention, chops, soul and powerful rhythms are the hallmark of this group. Building upon their last RAR outing, their first EXPEDITION with bassist Chip Jackson, WOLFF & CLARK continue to deconstruct familiar tunes to create their own unique versions.
There are four Trio tunes with McBride: Wolff's opener, "CLARK BAR," an obvious homage to his partner, swings mightily; "MONK'S DREAM" is a funky romp; "STRAY" is Wolff's gorgeous ballad for Billy Strayhorn; and "IN WALKED BUD" burns from beginning to end, even in a complicated time signature.
Cream's "SUNSHINE OF YOUR LOVE" is indicative of the W&C approach: With Niswanger on alto, the rock opus becomes pure up-tempo jazz. "ISRAEL" is given a compelling arrangement, with Clark playing without sticks at the onset, Wolff digging the blues and Niswanger wailing away. The Mikes' nod to Nelson Mandela, "MADIBA," shines a light on the great Wallace Roney - Almost a mini-suite, it tracks the South African icon's life and travails. The alto/trumpet parts are reminiscent of Wolff's former employers, Cannonball and Nat Adderley. Roney blows the roof off on Dizzy's tune, too...Prince's pop tune is utterly transformed into a seriously enjoyable, musical ‘event' with Wolff waxing Bulgarian and Niswanger wielding her soprano.
With their years of experience playing with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Nancy Wilson, Joe Henderson and others, the WOLFF & CLARK EXPEDITION continues to inspire and to explore broad swaths of musical territories.                                                                 


When two of the best musicians on the planet combine their estimable talents to create a band without boundaries, the result is the WOLFF & CLARK EXPEDITION. These sonic explorers embrace the past, venture into the future, but remain rooted in the improvisatory present. Pianist MICHAEL WOLFF and Drummer MIKE CLARK -- the Wolff & Clark Expedition -- recently released their second album on Random Act Records. Featuring jazz luminaries like bass stalwart CHRISTIAN McBRIDE and trumpeter WALLACE RONEY, the new album's personnel also reflect the future of the music: Rising star saxophonist HAILEY NISWANGER and 17-year-old bassist extraordinaire DARYL JOHNS join the Expedition for a journey to uncharted musical territories.

Continuing on the path forged on their first self-titled project, "Wolff & Clark Expedition 2" offers more ingenious versions of unique cover tunes as well as beguiling original compositions. Songs as diverse as Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love," Prince's chart-topping "1999," Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud" and "Monk's Dream," and Dizzy Gillespie's anthem "Night in Tunisia" are all given the distinctive Expedition treatment. The band reinvents these tunes with their own rhythmic and harmonic flair, creating performances both fresh and familiar.

Wolff & Clark perform two dazzling duets (piano and drums) on Jimmy Heath's opus "Gingerbread Boy" and Ornette Coleman's "Invisible," resulting in audacious yet accessible versions that define both master musicians. Wolff's compelling melodic inventions and harmonic daring comingle with Clark's innovative rhythmic sensibilities to establish the essence of the Expedition: Pure imagination and fire.

Mike Clark illuminates the group's penchant for reinterpretation: "It's fun to take tunes from different genres, deconstruct them, put a different spin on the music, and make them our own. Michael is really great at it - He suggested ‘1999' and I thought of ‘Sunshine of Your Love.' Audiences love it; they can relate to the music!"

A gifted composer, Michael Wolff contributes stellar compositions to the proceedings. His tribute to his late friend and fellow pianist, "Mulgrew," burns with passion; his nod to Ellington's cohort, "Stray," captures the beauty and poignancy of Mr. Strayhorn; and his sizzling "Clark Bar" is an appropriately energetic homage to his partner. Wolff & Clark's ultimate heartfelt creation is "Madiba," their collaborative paean to Nelson Mandela. With this epic tonal poem, listeners are taken on an extraordinary adventure; the piece exemplifies the talents and souls of Michael and Mike.

Often performing together since the 1970's, both Wolff and Clark have each had stellar music careers. Michael Wolff is an internationally acclaimed pianist, composer and bandleader. He made his recording debut in 1972 with Cal Tjader, and went on to record and perform with Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Nancy Wilson, Sonny Rollins, Tony Williams, Warren Zevon, Jean-Luc Ponty and many others. As pianist and music director for jazz singer Nancy Wilson, Michael wrote orchestral arrangements and conducted more than twenty-five major symphony orchestras worldwide. From 1989 to 1994, Michael garnered notoriety as the Musical Director for the Arsenio Hall Show, which gave him the opportunity to perform with established artists such as Ray Charles, Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, Patti LaBelle, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and saxophonist/President Bill Clinton. In addition to numerous sessions as a sideman, Michael Wolff has released twelve critically acclaimed albums as a leader, he was a recipient of the BMI Music Award for television composition and was also the winner of the "Gold Disc Award" in Japan for his album "Jumpstart," with Tony Williams and Christian McBride. He and his wife, actress/writer/director Polly Draper, produced an acclaimed feature film, "The Tic Code," featuring Gregory Hines, as well as "The Naked Brothers Band" movie. Their "Naked Brothers" effort spawned a long-running TV show featuring their award-winning actor/musician sons, Nat and Alex. Michael is currently the Chairman of the Board of the national Tourette Syndrome Association.

Drummer Mike Clark is a true percussion legend - He gained worldwide recognition as one of America's foremost jazz and funk drummers while touring and recording with Herbie Hancock and The Headhunters in the early 1970's. Mike became known as a major innovator through his incisive technique, original beats and his ability to combine the jazz aesthetic with the soul of funk music. He is undoubtedly one of the most vital musicians to ever sit behind a drum kit. During his legendary career, he has performed with Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Bennett, Christian McBride, Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Donald Harrison, Vince Guaraldi, Chet Baker, Larry Coryell, Eddie Henderson, Jeff Berlin, Bobby McFerrin, Al Jarreau, Dave Liebman, Oscar Brown Jr., Gil Evans and his Orchestra and a host of others. Mike is possibly the most-sampled drummer of the digital age; his beats are omnipresent in several genres, including rap, hip/hop and funk. A leader of several solo projects, in 2010 his superb outing, "Blueprints of Jazz - Vol. 1" was selected as one of the best jazz CD's of the decade. Mike is currently finishing his forthcoming solo CD "Indigo Blue," featuring Randy Brecker, Christian McBride, Donald Harrison, Rob Dixon and Antonio Farao.

Both Mikes state: "Together, we have years of combined experience playing with many of the greatest jazz artists of all time, so we share an innate understanding as to how to play at a consistently very high level, with a mutual feel for improvised music. Since we both spent time in the Bay Area, and since we've been friends and band mates for many years, The Expedition is a natural result of our shared, cumulative experiences."

Together they bring a combination of swing and groove to unique deconstructive takes on classic jazz, popular standards, and original compositions, creating a freedom in the sound that electrifies listeners and audiences worldwide. With their vast collective experience, the Wolff & Clark Expedition defies boundaries of genre, age and gender, showcasing the brilliant newcomer Hailey Niswanger. The young saxophonist (alto and soprano) has already shared stages with Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington, James Moody, DeeDee Bridgewater and George Duke. A daring player, she intrepidly joins the Expedition.
"We strive to take all listeners on unparalleled musical journeys, to unexplored sonic realms," say Wolff & Clark. "And our band is highly entertaining, without compromising the music!" The incomparable Michael Wolff and Mike Clark are musicians who constantly deliver the highest quality music with the inimitable humor and rapport reserved for best friends.
On their Expedition, the possibilities are limitless...

Read Evan Haga's JazzTimes Magazine review of their 2013 debut CD: http://jazztimes.com/articles/96928-michael-wolff-mike-clark-wolff-clark-expedition

visit: https://www.facebook.com/WolffClarkExpedition

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