While researching the Ian Wardenski Quintet and their new album, Collective Thoughts, I came across a curious news article titled “Prof Takes Break, Works on Recording His Music.” This was from the Anne Arundel Community College’s Campus Current, and Wardenski is the Chair of the Department of Performing Arts at AACC. I find this curious, because so many great jazz albums are being produced by academics these days. (Raul E. Blanco is another example of this.) There must be a restlessness among these teachers, instructors and professors, something about digging deep into the music with students that gets those musical synapses firing and those proverbial creative juices flowing.
The Ian Wardenski Quintet is fairly typical of this kind of creative outlet for academics since it focuses so much on a point in time in jazz, a place that marked a turning point for the art form that perhaps needed to be revisited. Wardenski, who is a jazz guitarist, performs these nine original compositions with a carefully chosen crew–sax player and fellow academic Tim Powell, pianist Jerry Ascione, bassist Amy Shook and drummer Frank Russo. Wardenski’s wife, soprano Tamara Tucker, also joins in roughly half of the time. These musicians are fascinated with one point in time in particular, that point where be-bop stretched out its limbs and chose to be as melodic as it was spontaneous.
There’s a tightness to the Ian Wardenski Quintet’s approach, one that can best be described as “no-nonsense.” These aren’t compositions made to explore new landscapes, but to remind you of magical moments in the past where those landscapes were first painted. Wardenski’s guitar is only one component in this egalitarian ensemble since much of the drama is produced by Powell’s passionate saxes. The leader’s Telly is often part of the superb rhythm section, adding layers of rigor and history–you can almost picture Wardenski sitting quietly to the side of the stage, nodding and offering constant encouragement.
That’s another trait I’ve identified with these scholar/performers. They’re generous. They’re not the kind of leaders who stand out at the front edge of the stage and demand that everyone else keeps up or gets another gig. That’s what makes the Ian Wardenski Quintet so unbelievably tight and focused, that feeling that despite the frequent solos, they’re all making this moment happen together. You can hear that partnership in every moment of this strong album. Collective thoughts, indeed.