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The Wolff & Clark Expedition set out two years ago off a long working relationship between pianist Mike Wolff and drummer Mike Clark. With a debut album that goes with the tour, the adventure has so far laid waste to the country and shook critics to their core. Hopefully, the first of many collaborations, the main components of this exploratory committee took an afternoon respite in Union Square to discuss the success.
“We’re outdoors having some coffee, and Mike Clark is right here with me, but he’s not really that interesting in talking so let’s keep going,” joked Wolff.
Latest Road Stop
Of course, the Mike with the phone isn’t worried about his namesake’s ability to bring it later at Kitano. The same goes for the venue’s ability to carry the notes for the audience. “Yeah, they have a really nice club. They used to just have this sort of room upstairs in the bar area. But they built this beautiful little room just for jazz, so it’s nice in Manhattan to have any place like this,” said the Pianist.
The expedition also has enough confidence to put aside their past hits and let their new music speak for itself. “Yes, we’ll be playing all the stuff from the album,” Wolff revealed.
Their playlist intends to go every which way too. “Like we have a Prince tune, some Cream and jazz standards, among other things. So everything is a vehicle where we have this wild impulsive way of deconstructing music,” said Wolff.
Always Working Out the Kinks with a Twist
Two years going strong, Wolff is sure they’ve worked out the kinks, and any given night has a good chance of coming with a twist. “I think we’re playing better and the concept is a little more honed in. Then what’s great about the Expedition is we can play with whoever we want,” said Wolff. “Everybody brings a different thing to it. So I’m really happy the way it is developing, as we’ve had a lot of different guys like Christie McBride and Ben Allison playing their parts.”
The time between gigs is well spent too. “With all the driving you’re doing, you have a lot of time to talk,” he said. “You can listen to the recording on the road to hash out the things you want to do the next night. So there’s a constant tweaking process that comes down to a lot of problem solving and concentrating on rhythm rather than melody and harmony.”
A Lot of Miles and Sales
The mileage isn’t wearing either after all these years. “I love to play and travel so much that I don’t get tired. Plus, I work out so I’m in pretty good shape and so does Mike,” said Wolff.
What about having the energy for extra curricular festivities afterwards? “No, everybody is too old at this point,” Wolff joked.
CD sales haven’t aged out, though. “It was on the jazz charts two months longer than they usually last. Eights weeks is typically the run, and we were on it for like four months,” said Wolff.
Keeping the Music and the Money Personal
The bottom line also gets a lift from being able to schmooze. “When you travel nowadays, it’s all about your merch, and we end up selling a lot of CDs on the gig. That’s really fun, because you can sign them, talk fans up and get involved on a really personal level,” beamed Wolff.
The pleasing interaction not withstanding, the Mike’s are in agreement over who has the most appeal among the ladies. “The cute one in the band is whatever young bass player that we have at any given time,” said Wolff.
At the same time, the Expedition admits that they sometimes feel like teenage girls when famous faces show up in the audience. “That happens all the time, and it’s a lot of fun. Of course in LA and New York the cats really come in and hang out. So I’m sure for this show they will be there. Like Miles is coming down and so is Train and Bill Evans,” said Wolff.
Yes, even successful musicians can dream like the rest of us. “Just kidding but we always keep a table empty for them just in case,” Wolff relented.
In actuality, though, he’s focused on the work, and the bright lights make it pretty difficult to see the reaction of audiences. Still, the kinetics don’t elude him. “With the piano always facing the audience, I can feel the energy they give off,” he said. “It’s kind of subliminal, but it’s definitely there and pretty cool."
Elevating a song to a title digs deep too. “It’s just a feeling. Like the other day, I was thinking about Billy Strayhorn when I was writing a song,” he said. “So I’m calling it Stray.”
In the end, Wolff takes prides the process of going off the cuff. “When we got guys like Ben Allison and Christie McBride, it gives a whole different direction and color that makes it pretty exciting. That keeps it fresh for us, creating different energies. So hopefully people will come and hang out with us,” he concluded.
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