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Piano master Mike Wofford has lived such a storybook career that it's easy to get lost in the long maze of his past accomplishments and forget about what a vital force he is right now.

Fortunately, Dan Atkinson and the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla gave local jazz fans the opportunity to experience the virtuoso live, in celebration of his soon-to-be-released solo CD, It's Personal, in a rare double-feature performance on June 30.

Wofford's improvising aesthetic has risen to a level of pure communication --stripped free of artifice and cliché, his touch alone can trigger an array of feelings. The pianist doesn't just enter the "zone", he holds the door open for the listener.

As he began disseminating "Little Melonae," into different dimensions of time, bluesy asides brushed against pastoral expression and extraordinarily tasteful manipulation of the bass register.

The title track of the new album found him soaring gracefully over choice voice-leading --Wofford's ability to organize harmony is so deeply informed he can induce a reverie simply by striking lush and resonant chords that become complete statements in and of themselves.

He distilled "It Don't Mean A Thing," into oblique angles -- using sparse single notes set with devastating sure-footedness that refracted pure connections to the blues. Continuing with the noir-ish "The Eighth Veil," his thematic extrapolation conjured up a litany of cinematic images.

Indeed, Wofford's gift lies in the way he is able to transform the material into a personal narrative way beyond the theme-solo-theme pattern that dominates much of the standard jazz practice.

Balancing a stripped-down stride with impressionistic harmonies, his dedication to Earl Hines, "Hines Catch-up," toggled between left-hand colors and right-hand filigree, and the way he opened up the Talking Heads tune "Once In A Lifetime," defied explanation.

Intimate, sublime and full of surprise. What more could you ask for?

Photo by Anthony Cecena

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