The New Cool: Ben Wendel

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Friday February 08, 2019


The New Cool: Ben Wendel talks about his album that’s not an album, until now.
By: Abe Beeson

Best known for his nearly two decades with the modern jazz fusion group Kneebody, Ben Wendel explored the endless possibilities of the duet format with 12 videos released in 2015 featuring 12 different collaborators from across the wide jazz spectrum. I spoke to Wendel recently about his career, his many young fans, and this diverse recent project, The Seasons, just released in CD and vinyl formats as performed by Wendel in a quintet setting.

[…] Composition and improvistation get equal billing on The Seasons collection. Each song was written with the collaborating artist in mind. Wendel would consider, “what is it about this person that I admire so much? So, every artist (and song) was different. Like, the great guitarist Julian Lage: he’s a happy person, so immediately I knew that he would be one of the summer months.”

Collaborations with each artist followed with music specifically meant for them, he says. “I knew that I had done a good job when the artist would say, ‘This sounds like something I would have written.’”

The Seasons video project was warmly received, New York Times jazz critic Nate Chinen called it one of the best jazz albums of 2015, before pointedly noting, “it’s not an album.”

Now, it is an album. The Seasons has just been released on CD and vinyl by Motema Music, as performed by Ben Wendel and four talented musicians from the video series: guitarist Gilad Hekselman, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Eric Harland. A tour from this fantastic quintet is currently underway.

Wendel says he experimented with the live version a bit, “initially we tried to do the months in order. But the pieces have evolved so much now that they’re in quintet form, that energetically they ended up in different zones.”

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