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Composer and horn player Ben Wendel clearly has a grounding in jazz and classical traditions. But that doesn’t mean he’s stuck in the past, as his latest album All One suggests. Unlike a lot of traditionalists, Wendel isn’t afraid to use overdubs, plus he’s deft at using the studio itself as an instrument, giving what’s essentially a ballad album a fresh shine. Check out his tune “Wanderers,” which features a small army of layered saxophones, some of them given digital treatments to make them dreamier, plus a bassoon providing the bass part and multiple handclaps the percussion. It’s all in service of guest Terence Blanchard and his soulful trumpet lead. Wendel provides similar creative backing for Bill Frisell on the guitarist’s lovely “Throughout,” flautist Elena Pinderhughes on his own lush “Speak Joy,” and pianist (and regular Wendel employer) Tigran Hamasyan on his stately original “In Anima.” But Wendel is at his best as producer and arranger with singers – he gives José James a near-classical backing on the standard “Tenderly,” and provides Cécile McLorin Salvant a setting for the Gershwins’ “I Loves You Porgy” that’s positively sublime. All One showcases Wendel’s ability to be his own big band.
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