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Genre: Indie / Jazz / Other
Location SANTA MONICA, California, Un
Profile Views: 53506
Last Login: 8/13/2012
Member Since 4/16/2006
Record Label Sunnyside Records, Winter & Winter, Greenleaf
Type of Label Indie
BioGrammy nominated performer, composer and producer Ben Wendel was educated at the Eastman School of Music in New York. Since graduating he has enjoyed a varied career as a performer, composer, producer and most recently, conductor. Highlights include multiple domestic and international tours with such artists as Cuban drumming legend Ignacio Berroa, Thelonious Monk Piano Competition Winner Tigran Hamasyan and Hip Hop artist Snoop Dogg. Ben is a founding member of the Grammy nominated group Kneebody. In addition to playing saxophone and bassoon, Ben also doubles on the piano. As a composer he has received an ASCAP Jazz Composer Award, was a winner in the 2007 International Songwriting Competition and received the 2008 and 2011 Chamber Music America "New Works Grant." A frequent writer of film music, he co-wrote the score for John Krasinski's 2009 adaptation of David Foster Wallace's "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men." Ben was honored to work with conductor Kent Nagano in producing a series of concerts for the Festpeil Plus in Munich, Germany. One of the performances (a collaboration between Theo Bleckmann and Kneebody featuring the songs of Charles Ives) was signed to Winter & Winter and later received a Grammy nomination. Since 2007 Ben has produced Under The Radar, a multi-genre performance series at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, California. Ben is a recording artist with Sunnyside Records, with plans for his second release in February 2012. He is a former Adjunct Professor of Jazz Studies at USC and currently teaches through The New School in NYC. Ben recently had the honor of conducting a re-creation of "Bird With Strings" at Jazz At The Lincoln Center with guests Charles McPherson and Wes "Warm Daddy" Anderson.
MembersFriends I play with: Tigran Hamasyan, Gerald Clayton, Nate Wood, Adam Benjamin, Ben Street, Nir Felder, Kaveh Rastegar, Larry Koonse, Darek Oles, Taylor Eigsti, Adam Benjamin, Shane Endsley, Ambrose Akinmusire, Garrett Smith, Harish Raghavan, Kevin Kanner, Matt Slocum, Dan Lutz, Josh Nelson, Gene Coy, Alan Ferber, Todd Sickafoose, Otmaro Ruiz, Mark Ferber, Daedelus, Gilbert Castellanos, Joe Sanders, Jimmy Johnson, Jimmy Branley, Carlos Del Puerto, Aaron McLendon...
InfluencesBilly Higgins, Ravel, Black Star, Kneebody, Claudia Quintet, Jerseyband, Eric Biondo, Debussy, So Percussion, Dispenza, Mark Turner, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Peter Gabriel, Tarif de Haidouks, Jason Falkner, Ron Miles, Futurehead, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Led Zeppelin, Ralph Alessi, Mike Cain, Chris Potter, The Police, Art Lande, Elliot Smith, Wayne Shorter, Kate Bush, Squarepusher, Daedelus, Milton Nascimento, Bartok, Hindemith, Marisa Kuney, Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau, Joe Lovano, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Weather Report, Paul Motion, Bill Frisell, The Roots, The Youngs, Jimi Hendrix, Stravinsky, Puccini, Shane Endsley, Nate Wood, Kaveh Rastegar, Adam Benjamin, Todd Sickafoose, Nels Cline, Myra Melford, Beach Boys, Lee Konitz, Gershwin, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Herbie Hancock, The Beatles, The Zombies, Colin Hay, Bobby McFerrin, Alicia De LA Rocha, Steely Dan, Tchaikovsky, Eric B and Rakem, Mos Def, Cannonball Adderley...
Sounds LikeA The Falcon. Adam Benjamin, Ben Street, Nate Wood, Nir Felder.
6 Songs | Sep 21, 2008
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Iconoclastic composer Frank Zappa once wrote, “The most important thing in art is the frame... without this humble appliance, you can’t know where the art stops and the real world begins.”
With his second solo album, Frame, saxophonist, bassoonist and composer Ben Wendel presents a gallery show of nine new pieces that approach that “humble appliance” — the frame — from multi-faceted angles: a snapshot of a pair of French patrons of the arts (“Jean and Renata”); an exotic portrait in rhythm (“Backbou”); the harmonic reframing of a masterpiece (“Con Alma”). But ultimately what the album amounts to is a framing of the self — a self-portrait by an artist who’s come to define his own singular voice.
For Ben Wendel, that portrait comes in the form of a collage, layering diverse influences and styles into an evocative whole. Despite Zappa’s compartmentalized definition, of course, everyday life and artistic life have a tendency to bleed into one another — even across the boundaries of the frame — and Wendel’s music can’t help but reflect the composer’s real world reality. Written during and just after the west coast native’s tumultuous move to New York City, Frame traces the emotional arc of that period — the bittersweet tang of leaving the familiar co-existing with the tense expectancy of new experience, and the vibrant bustle of the artistic mecca he now calls home.
The wistful hope captured by “Leaving” is the album’s most direct statement on the move. The feeling of loss and departure was amplified by the death of Wendel’s great-aunt, a powerful figure in his childhood, and outspoken supporter of his music. “I don’t usually write thematic music,” Wendel says, “but at the same time I was leaving my family in Los Angeles and moving to New York, this woman who had been a big part of my life had passed away. I had a strange feeling of excitement and melancholy and was thinking about the passage of time and mortality, and it all came out as a piece of music.”
Wendel’s east coast surroundings are more concretely evidenced by the incredible ensemble of musicians he’s assembled for the album: keyboardist Adam Benjamin and drummer Nate Wood, his bandmates in the Grammy-nominated group Kneebody; bassist Ben Street; guitarist Nir Felder; and Gerald Clayton and Tigran Hamasyan on piano.
In combining these musicians, all frequent collaborators, Wendel had a distinct ensemble sound in mind, one he carefully crafts into a collective voice. Most of the pieces were penned with these specific instrumentalists in mind; many were directly inspired by them. “Clayland” is named for Gerald Clayton, while “Backbou” was meant for Tigran Hamsyan, who Wendel refers to as “a scholar of rhythm.” The title refers to master Gnaoua musician Malem Mustafa Bakbou, whom Wendel met and played with while on tour in Morocco with Hamasyan. “He plays music that’s nearly 400 years old,” Wendel explains, “a classic example of folkloric music where the rhythm would be impossible to notate. I wrote this piece before I went to Morocco, but the title seemed appropriate since the piece moves through different meters and travels in a way that’s not obvious.”
From their extensive experience working together in Kneebody, Wendel is intimately familiar with bandmates Adam Benjamin and Nate Wood’s musical vocabularies. “It’s commonly accepted that there’s no one who does what Adam does on the Fender Rhodes,” Wendel says. As for Wood, he adds, “Nate’s someone who can do four different things with each of his limbs.”
Every musician on the album was called on to navigate the tricky border between jazz and classical, interstitial spaces where many composers can lose all direction, but where Wendel feels most comfortably framed. Classically trained but deeply rooted in the jazz tradition, Wendel’s compositions move fluidly between the two realms, through composed sections evolving into improvised passages and back again. It’s the sort of dichotomy that runs throughout his music — not quite “fusion,” but something wholly original.
“I’ve always loved writing really simple melodies with complex voice leading and harmony underneath,” he says, a concept which comes to the fore on the album’s opener, the fanfare-like “Chorale.” The piece follows an identically-titled song from his debut solo album, Simple Song, establishing a “theme & variation” trend that he hopes to continue on subsequent releases.
In addition to tenor and soprano sax, Wendel plays melodica and bassoon, an instrument he’s wielded with a wildly eclectic range of artists — from Brazilian legend Dori Caymmi and Cuban drum giant Ignacio Berroa to pop icon Prince and hip-hop superstar Snoop Dogg. A graduate of New York’s Eastman School of Music, Wendel was a winner in the 2007 International Songwriting Competition and received an ASCAP Jazz Composer Award, as well as the 2008 and 2011 Chamber Music America “New Works Grant.” In 2007, he collaborated with conductor Kent Nagano to produce a series of concerts for the Festpeil Plus in Munich, Germany and more recently conducted a re-creation of Charlie Parker’s “Bird With Strings” at Jazz At Lincoln Center, with guests Charles McPherson and Wes “Warm Daddy” Anderson.
Wendel is currently based in Brooklyn, where he’s establishing himself as one of the jazz scene’s most evocative & progressive young musicians. It’s no surprise that Wendel chose to place himself in the epicenter of culture & eclecticism, New York City — where, like a painting without a frame, “you can’t know where the art stops and the real world begins.”