Reviews

Bruce Torff: Down The Line | Roberta on the Arts

This CD is a mesmerizing selection of original tunes by pianist, Bruce Torff, recorded in late 2014 – early 2015 in Brooklyn, and just released. The album is filled with energy, pathos, and seasoned solos from a top notch band. The pathos derives from the fact that the late trumpeter, Lew Soloff, made his final recordings here, on two tracks, plus the fact that Torff’s longtime friend is memorialized in a poignant track, titled “Memoriam”. The album’s ensemble includes Torff on piano and keyboards, Joel Frahm (who has been favorably reviewed on these pages) on saxophone, Pete McCann on guitars, Ben Wittman on drums, and, as noted, Lew Soloff on trumpet. “Early Sunday”, Soloff’s final recorded work, appears last on the album, with a fading trumpet finale. You’ll hear brisk urbanity and melancholy blues, as each tune is imbued with originality and creative detail. Bruce Torff doubles as a renowned professor of educational psychology with numerous publications. This Renaissance man is also an extraordinary composer and arranger.

Notable tracks:

All compositions by Bruce Torff.

#4 – Tribal Function – This ingenious track opens with Wittman’s splashy percussion, Torff’s electrified keys, Frahm’s billowy, blustery, tenor sax, and McCann’s edgy guitar. The tempo is an omnipresent, bluesy beat. The guitar picks up a winding, racing theme, before a soaring sax solo expands and reinvents the tantalizing tonality. Torff’s keyboard closes the track with resonant, repetitive notes that form a fused finale with guitar, sax, and drums. This was one of my favorite tracks.

#5 – This I Promise You – This tune, opening with a mellow guitar in yearning echoes, is one of the album’s two homages to Lew Soloff. Soloff’s sophisticated, spotlighted trumpet converses with Frahm’s soulful tenor sax. Drums are minimal and brushed, and keyboards smoothly ambient, in the languorous aura that ensues, like spring rain and cool breezes. In contrast to the previous, electrified track, this tune exemplifies Torff’s noteworthy versatility.

#6 – Well of Tears – In spite of the title, this tune is uplifting, upbeat, and electrified. Wittman’s pulsating drums and Frahm’s swirling tenor sax open the track, on the heels of the plugged in and melodic keyboard and guitar. Torff’s keyboard solo is fanciful and engaging, and McCann’s driven guitar exuded dissonance, but with flourish. Swing and hustle dance rhythms also came to mind.

#11 – Early Sunday – Once again, this tune was Lew Soloff’s farewell recording, and how splendid it was. An electrified guitar introduced the seamless, sensitive theme, played by Torff on his first of three piano interludes. Soloff’s expansive, elegant trumpet solo, that arrives mid-track, shared the spotlight with the refined piano, gorgeous guitar, and supportive drums. When Soloff’s solo ends the track, moments of silence ominously remain.

Bruce Torff: Down The Line | JazzWeekly – George W. Harris

Here’s an impressive release by keyboardist Bruce Torff with his muscular team of Joel Frahm/ts-ss, Pete McCann/g and Ben Wittman/dr. Unfortunately, the session will also be known as the last recording for the trumpeter Lew Soloff, who sadly departed in January, but leaves an impressive legacy on two tracks here. His tone is lovely on “Early Sunday” and makes a rich front line with “This I Promise You” with Frahm’s tenor as they both get a chance to deliver arias. Torff’s “Enceladus” gallops with the rhythm as both he and Frahm contribute rhythmic explorations, while McCan’s tuiar on “Down the Line” is lithe and warm. Frahm’s soprano sears through “Last Dispatch from the Road to Hell” and gets the spotlight on his volcanic tenor on “Wave Of Silence.” All of the tunes by Torff are multi-textured with interesting harmonies and side bars. Impressive post bop.

Bruce Torff: Down The Line | DownBeat Magazine – Jeff Potter

Keyboardist Bruce Torff’s second disc is tinged in a mellow tone. In addition to his busical pursuits, Torff (brother to noted bassist Brian Torff) also boasts an impressive academic career, currently as professor of educational psychology at Hofstra University.

As a composer, he favors funk and Brazillian-inflected grooves, accessible melodies and uncluttered arrangements. Several numbers on Down The Line totter precariously into smooth-jazz territory, but for most cuts, Torff counterbalances that tendency with added bite from his sidemen. He knows where his strengths lie: As a soloist, Torff prefers to keep things melodic and quite brief, instead conceding the floor to his guests. Tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm fills that role heartily, contributing passionate solo flights and added liquidity to the tracks. Guitarist Pete McCann also steps up, energizing tunes with his comping finesse. The late trumpet star Lew Soloff graces two tracks that were recorded two weeks prior to his passing. His gorgeous, playing on the slow bossa “This I Promise” is a standout.

Bruce Torff Takes It “Down the Line” | The Jazz Owl by Travis Rogers, Jr

Down the Line (Summit DCD 672) is the second album from pianist/composer Bruce Torff. The 11 original compositions reveal Torff to be a composer with a great instinct for Modern Jazz.

Sadly, the album was occasioned by the death of Torff’s childhood friend who passed at the age of 50 years. To deepen the sadness, guest trumpeter Lew Soloff would pass away only two weeks after this recording, making this his final recording.

Joining Bruce Torff on the recording is the brilliant Joel Frahm on tenor and soprano saxophones, the exquisite Pete McCann on guitars, the solid Ben Wittman on drums and the afore-mentioned Lew Soloff on trumpet. Torff himself handles the kicking bass duties with the keyboards.

Torff explains of his composing style, “I usually hear a groove first, either a bass line or a drum lick. I then build layers of melodies and voicings. The main thing is that the music has to be both accessible and adventurous.”

What you hear on this album is proof of that approach.

Enceladus opens with brief piano intro then the groove kicks right in. The vibes-keyboard is a cool sound with percussion and keyboard providing the groove. Joel Frahm gets the early solo on tenor sax. Torff solos with the spacey keys but the whole theme is rounded up nicely with tenor sax and keyboards carrying the theme to the end.

Down the Line is introduced with the piano and acoustic guitar and the drums setting the rhythm. Pete McCann then turns loose with the electric guitar over the funky rhythms. Joel Frahm solos distinctly before McCann takes the hand-off again. The dialogue between them is fascinating stuff and the very essence of Jazz.

Torff calls McCann “an idea factory” and his varied expressions here and throughout the album show you why. His choices are brilliant and the delivery…well, it is Pete McCann, after all.

Wave of Silence is a beautiful, moving piece. The guitar and keys are in fine unison, opening the way for Frahm’s soulful improvisation. Frahm also appeared on Torff’s first album from 2013, Look Again. It is clear to see why Torff brought him back.

That distinctive groove of drums and bass line jumps from the start of Tribal Function. Frahm is again in the heart of the melody but Torff enters with the hot hand and explodes melody. Not to be outdone, Frahm sets explosives of his own. Torff, Frahm and McCann have a bit of a shout chorus to carry the track out. Fun stuff.

This I Promise You is enough to break your heart. It is tone-poem of sincerity and comfort. Lew Soloff creates a sweet and affectionate declaration of support in the midst of loss. Frahm answers in equal measure in one of the most lyrical pieces on the album. The melody sticks in your head. This was the very last piece recorded by Lew Soloff.

The tempo changes with Well of Tears picks up where Tribal Function left off. Frahm and McCann get in early. The groove is cool and approachable. Frahm’s solo is loose but well-phrased. Torff’s keyboard solo is developed coolly and expressively. I love the movement of the piece, gliding effortlessly and immediately between Frahm, Torff and McCann.

Beginning of the End is beautifully melodic piece with a soft swing and open spaces for lovely solos from Frahm and Torff.  McCann’s backdrop acoustic guitar for the acoustic piano makes for gorgeous lines. The slow and thoughtful interlude accentuates the relief of the Jobim-like melodies of the choruses. Gorgeous.

Don’t be scared but next is The Last Dispatch from the Road to Hell. Full of the requisite good intentions, the song actually makes good on its promises. Frahm gives his only soprano sax solo performance of the album here. Locked in with the programmed drums and keyboards the groove is accentuated by the cross-currents of Frahm’s soprano sax. McCann gives a bit of crunch in the background. Smokin’ piece!

Memoriam was the first composition Torff wrote after hearing the news of his friend’s passing. It carries the sound of more elegy than eulogy. The grief is evident but it does not surrender itself to the pain. Rather, the piece is a celebration of a life and not the agony of a death.

Frahm’s tenor sax and McCann’s acoustic guitar carry the memorable melody together between them. It carries a Brazilian swing, reminding you of the beautiful Luis Banfa melodies. Beautifully rich.

Once and for All carries the same Brazilian touch and groove. Everyone is aboard for this incredible work. Frahm’s tenor sax, McCann’s acoustic guitar, Wittman sitting solidly at drums and Torff works some of his most melancholy, even haunting, piano work on the album. This was one to be played and replayed.

The album is closed out with Early Sunday. Lew Soloff’s trumpet with the acoustic guitar and the distinctive, percussive piano is gorgeous. Soloff’s tonality is intoxicating and McCann switches to electric guitar in sweet transformation. McCann picks up the solo in perfect tone and phrasing. Torff returns with piano before letting Soloff’s trumpet—and indeed Soloff himself—fade beautifully and brightly away.

The album becomes a farewell to two friends but it remains, as said before, a celebration of them more than a burial of them.

Bruce Torff is a masterful and innovative—perhaps even intuitive—composer who builds upon what has gone before without simply recreating it. He goes after the groove and he put the right players in place to brilliantly execute his vision. All of the artists on his album have made plain his vision, a vision of love and remembrance that he allows us to share.

Musical Memoirs | Dee Dee McNeil

“Welcome to Torff’s second CD for Summit Records. He continues to offer a pattern of music excellence… His creativity and talent explode on this recording.”

“This is an easy listening, smooth jazz recording, well produced and featuring eleven conscientiously-constructed compositions by Torff. Welcome to Torff’s second CD for Summit Records. He continues to offer a pattern of music excellence. The title tune, “Down the Line” is infectious with both rhythm and melody, shuffling along with Wittman on drums, holding the groove comfortably in place. On the 3rd cut, “Wave of Silence”, Frahm on tenor sax brings a bit of straight-ahead jazz to the party. I enjoyed the arrangement on this composition and the astutely clean mix brings each of these musicians upfront and prominent. At the same time, the mix ensures a perfect ensemble blend. Congratulations to mixologist, Michael Brorby, who also co-produced this CD with Torff.

On “This I Promise You”, I fell in love with the sweet trumpet work of Lew Soloff, who passed away from a heart attack just two weeks after recording this project.

Torff’s bio is interesting. Born and raised in Chicago, the family is musical with his brother, Brian, established as a ‘renowned bassist’. No slouch in academia, Bruce Torff received a Master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music before earning two more Master degrees and a doctorate in education from Harvard. He became a highly successful professor of educational psychology at Hofstra University, a college near New York City. But music continues to be an exciting outlet and passion for his left-side-brain. His creativity and talent explode on this recording.”

Midwest Record | Chris Spector

“A smart, left leaning date peopled with players that are all game raisers… the groove reigns supreme.”

SUMMIT
BRUCE TORFF/Down the Line:  “Playing hooky from his day job as a Harvard Ph.D. in education, the creative piano man makes this date notable if for nothing else than it’s believed to be Lew Soloff’s last session recorded 2 weeks before he died.  Just in passing, it’s notable for the playing and writing as well.  A smart, left leaning date peopled with players that are all game raisers, this is solid late Friday afternoon music when you need something that understands how much you need to let go with your jazz at that moment.  Some of the titles might seem pretty down beat but this is instrumental music and the groove reigns supreme.  Check it out.” http://www.midwestrecord.com/MWR1048.html

Keyboardist Bruce Torff travels ‘Down The Line’ on New Summit Records Release | Mike Greenblatt

In the follow-up to his promising 2013 Look Again, keyboardist/composer Bruce Torff’s Down The Line (Summit Records) is a pleasant delight, filled with scintillating solos, Brazilian-inspired rhythmic tics, syncopated funk, spacey balladry and the wistful final trumpet tones of Lew Soloff who suffered a fatal heart attack at 71 just weeks after recording his parts.

Coincidently, “Memoriam” isn’t for Soloff. It’s for a childhood friend of Torff’s who died at 50 in a plane crash. Saxophonist Joel Frahm lends his velvet tone to the ethereal “Wave Of Silence” and the futuristic “Enceladus.” Guitarist Pete McCann drives the title track over the speed limit and the whole quintet explodes into a long grooooooooove on “Tribal Function.”

Soloff was a former Blood Sweat & Tears rock star before he became part of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Wynton Marsalis and the trumpet voice of the Mingus Big Band. He also recorded and performed with the late Miles Davis producer Gil Evans, becoming arguably the finest interpreter of those classic Davis/Evans collaborations, Porgy And Bess (1959) and Sketches Of Spain (1960), totally revitalizing and adding to the original Miles trumpet parts for the ears of those generations too young to have experienced the original. In fact, Down The Line righteously ends with Soloff fading into the sunset like a cinematic cowboy hero on the last notes of the closing track, “Early Sunday,” a wistful reminder of his passing.

Ten out of 11 tracks hit home hard (the only snooze-fest being the lite-jazz “Beginning To End” which sounds like Grover Washington, Jr. on too many painkillers). Whoever invented lite-jazz anyway?

Drummer Ben Wittman (ex-Sting) keeps things brisk and moving, working well with Torff’s keyboard bass notes. The lack of a bass player is hardly noticed.

Torff, from Chicago, is smart: two Master’s degrees and a Harvard doctorate is only the tip of this Hofstra professor’s resume. He’s been published within academia no less than 80 times, most notably for his book, Understanding and Teaching the Intuitive Mind.

Bruce Torff: Down the Line | KARL ACKERMANN

Chicago area native, Bruce Torff, leads his second outing on Summit Records, following up on Look Again (2013). Torff is, first and foremost, an academician with three Master Degrees and a PhD from Harvard. He is a professor at Hofstra University and a prolific author, as well an excellent keyboardist and composer. Torff’s slim recorded musical history dates back to composing credits on his brother, bassist Brian Torff’s Hitchhiker of Karoo (Self-Produced, 1985). He later recorded as part of guitarist John Stein‘s quartet on Hustle Up! (Knitting Factory, 1995). The common thread in Torff’s previous work had been straight-ahead, mainstream jazz but on Down the Line he conveys a distinctive fusion component to the music.

Saxophonist Joel Frahm and guitarist Pete McCann return from Torff’s original group. Frahm’s more notable recordings include his duo outing with Brad Mehldau, Don’t Explain (Palmetto Records, 2000), and Jane Monheit‘s In the Sun (Silverline, 2005) along with a half-dozen leader releases. McCann has lead his own groups since the late 1990s and is known for his diverse range that covers sub-genres from jazz-rock to avant-garde. Drummer Ben Wittman has been part of more than one-hundred recordings as a multi-instrumentalist, producer or engineer working with a range of artists from folk artist Lucy Kaplansky to Sting to the Either/Orchestra.

Of special note, Down the Line represents what is believed to be Lew Soloff‘s final recording before his death in March 2015, two weeks after completing this album. The legendary trumpeter’s resume includes Frank Sinatra, the Mingus Big Band, Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. On Troff’s album he appears on only two tracks, “This I Promise You” and the closing track, the poignant “Early Sunday,” Soloff playing lower here than his characteristic style.

The eleven original Torff compositions are democratically arranged to allow for Torff, Frahm and McCann to take brief solos though Down the Line is more an ensemble effort. The stylistic variations include funk oriented pieces such as the title track, “Tribal Function” and “Well of Tears” and the furtive and more improvisational “Last Dispatch from the Road to Hell.” Brazilian undercurrents play a role on “This I Promise You,” “Beginning to End,” “Memoriam” and “Once and for All.”

While Torff’s strength may not be trailblazing improvisation and Down the Line isn’t dominated by break-out solos, he nevertheless has a unique harmonic view and the ability to bring lyrical and angular qualities together seamlessly. Torff’s melodies are swayed by a contemporary and forward-looking perspective that keeps the album from falling into the increasingly large black hole of fusion/smooth jazz. Down the Line is an enthusiastic and tasteful album that should be broadly appealing.

Bruce Torff – Down The Line 4/3 | O’s Place Newsletter by Oscar Groomes

Bruce Torff plays keyboards, composed all of the music and leads a quintet with saxophonist Joel Frahm, guitarist Pete McCann, Ben Whittman on drums and veteran trumpeter Lew Soloff. It was the final recording for Soloff who died two weeks after the recording was complete. He left us with good memories and rich solos notably on “This I Promise You”. The contemporary vibe is strong start to finish ranging from the rock fusion groove on “Well Of Tears” to the Latin swing on “Beginning To End”. Our favorite is “Down The Line” with good input from each musician. This is our first listen to Torff as a leader and it is a strong showing.

Attractive music in the contemporary mainstream of jazz | Jazz Mostly by Bruce Crowther

This album by pianist and composer Bruce Torff touches upon the loss of friends and associates and while it has moments of appropriate solemnity it is far from being sad and gloomy. All the music heard here is composed by Bruce, the moving Memoriam being written following the death of a friend from childhood and seeks and finds joy in these memories. Yes, there are moments of reflection, such as Wave Of Silence, but there is also liveliness and wit, Down The Line, Tribal Function, and (despite its title) Well Of Tears. For this album, Bruce is joined by guitarist Pete McCann, drummer Ben Wittman, tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm (playing soprano saxophone on one track). Also present on this session is trumpeter Lew Soloff who plays on two tracks, This I Promise You and Early Sunday, both fine examples of his work, exploring as they do depths of mature and sincere emotion. That emotional content is enhanced immeasurably by the knowledge that just two weeks after his appearance was recorded Lew Soloff died. Attractive music in the contemporary mainstream of jazz.

Bruce Torff – Down The Line | ginalovesjazz.com by Matthias Kirsch

Chicago-born composer and keyboardist Bruce Torff (brother of bassist Brian Torff) follows his 2013 album “Look Again” with “Down The Line”, a highly enjoyable and versatile recording with a stellar cast of players and some well-rounded and honed compositions. The main featured instrumentalist here is Joel Frahm on sax who graces the 11 tracks with his inimitable, soulful sound.

There is a Brecker Brothers-ness on the opening funky “Enceladus” with Joel improvising over a subdued and behind-the-scenes keyboard carpet and a really cool solo by the leader. The fusion-y sound of the electric guitar by Pete McCann on the title track is a welcome addition to the palette and only enhances the otherwise infectious, groovy tune. The tempo is at half throttle on “Wave Of Silence” where both Joel and Pete move to the forefront on what turns out to be a pretty atmospheric piece.

Bruce is also playing all bass parts, but never goes the corny route thank heaven. But still, “Tribal Function” not really works for me – it just sounds too much like a studio jam, albeit fun track. There is a certain tragic to this album, as trumpeter Lew Soloff contributed to two pieces only two weeks before he passed away. The beauty of his playing on “This I Promise You” is deeply moving. And the exchange between him and Joel only adds to the magic of the piece.

“Well Of Tears” reminds me of some Steely Dan stuff of the early 80s, circa “Gaucho”. Another intricate and grooving tune. The light and breezy, Brazilian-tinged “Beginning To End” features some keyboard vibes work by the leader as well, adding yet another touch. The impetuous and a bit tumultuous “Last Dispatch From The Road To Hell” is too uneven for me, but has a great title! More Brazilian sounds can be heard on “Memoriam” with a gentle guitar and endearing drum work by the great Ben Wittman and on the slightly faster “Once And For All” where Joel has another of his ample solos. I need to check out more of his stuff. His tone is superb.

The second song with the late great Lew Soloff on his final recording before his sudden death opens with some sweet piano tinklings before Lew sets in on a reggae-fied section of “Early Sunday”. Where’s the croissant and the coffee?

Bruce Torff – Down The Line | Album Reviews by Mike Jurkovic

The groove driven jazz of composer/pianist/keyboardist Bruce Torff is a bit smoother and slicker than I like my jazz to be, but his compositions and his flawless ear for where instruments belong, and how they dance with and complement each other, is a joy to listen to.

Bringing into play all the sounds Manhattan and Latin America have to offer, guitars, keys, horns, drums, et al vibrantly express themselves throughout these 11 originals. Sinuously slinky one moment (“Wave of Silence”), pumping the next (“Tribal Function”), then urban and fluid (“Beginning To The End”), Torff presents his players with a solid palette for them to create on, especially guitarist Pete McCann (listen as he stakes his claim to the funky title track) and saxophonist Joel Frahm. Down The Line also features the late trumpet legend Lew Soloff (Maynard Ferguson, Blood, Sweat, & Tears, Carla Bley) last recordings on the gently rolling “This I Promise You” and “Early Sunday.”

Bruce Torff – Down The Line | CD HotList by Rick Anderson

Pianist/composer Bruce Torff has an unusual talent: the ability to write distinctly modern jazz that makes no compromises in terms of harmonic and melodic complexity, but that is at all times completely accessible. This is not a minor thing. Listen to the title track of his second album as a leader, and notice how strange the melody is and yet how easy it is to listen to, and contemplate how rare it is for a jazz guy to accomplish that. The whole album works that way, which is very impressive. It’s also worth noting that this album includes the last recordings by the great trumpter Lew Soloff, who died only days after the sessions were finished. Recommended to all jazz collections.

Bruce Torff – Down The Line | Improvijazzation Nation by Dick Metcalf

This is the second CD for this excellent jazz pianist, and our first listen… all-original tunes from Bruce, with pieces like the heavy-rhythm and exciting “Tribal Function” serving to remind the listener that “dow-un” & “phunky” are still a most essential part of great jazz… my only complaint is that it could have gone a little longer than the 3:38 it lasts!  That’s easily made up by the 4:37 title track, “Down The Line“, though…  total cool, and I loved the great guitar lead on this one.  Bruce’s compositions don’t get channeled into any ruts… plenty of stylistic variety here, as evidenced by the mighty mellow mood created on “Once and For All“… laid-back, but still full of emotion.   Bruce is joined by Joel Frahm on sax, Pete McCann on guitar, Ben Wittman’s drums and trumpet from Lew Soloff, and the group shows their total talent/energy on my personal favorite of the eleven tunes offered up, “The Road to Hell“… no, it’s not H.M. (heavy metal)… some of the most subtle jazz I’ve heard (yet) in 2016!  I give Bruce & his fellow-players a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98 for this fabulous jazz experience.