Ian Wardenski Quintet receives a stirring review from Lemon Wire

Ian Wardenski Quintet’s debut, “Collective Thoughts” merges theory and performance

Guitarist and composer Ian Wardenski has collaborated with five stellar musicians (including his wife on vocals on select tracks) to present a series of songs that demonstrate his idea of coupling theory with performance. “Collective Thoughts” manages to be smooth and dazzling at the same time.

On “Collective Thoughts” Wardenski combines the aesthetic of a chamber group with the freedom, spontaneity and improvisation of a small jazz combo. To achieve this, at least in part, Wardenski has paired with Tim Powell on soprano and tenor saxophones, Jerry Ascione on piano, Amy Shook on bass, Frank Russo on drums, and Tamara Tucker (Wardenski’s wife) on vocals on select tracks.

About Ian Wardenski

Wardenski’s academic approach comes as no surprise when listeners hear the album. His musical journey began at age 15 when he attended the Creative Music Institute in Emmaus, Pennsylvania. There, the teen studied music theory, composition and improvisation. Wardenski also began participating in ensembles.

Beyond secondary school, Wardenski continued to dedicate himself to the advanced study of music. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Notre Dame de Namur in California. Then, Wardenski completed a Master of Music in Music Theory from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Eventually, he finished his Ph.D. in Music Theory from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

While earning his degrees, Wardenski studied under the tutelage of renowned scholars and musicians, including Steven Strunk, Robert Shankovich, Thomas Kikta and Aaron Shearer, among others.

The sound of “Collective Thoughts”

The title track is the first song on the album. Without fanfare, the album begins and from the first note it intrigues listeners to want to hear where it will go.

At once there is the almost-frenzied, multi-layered approach to drums and percussion. Heavy, slower, lower-pitched beats are topped by a shaker sound that is soon undergirded by the rich pull of an upright bass. The drums thunder and pound in an energy reminiscent of rock ‘n’ roll. However, the addition of clear-sounding, high-pitched saxophones brings the song back to jazz. The song moves into a more mellow mood: the drums are gone except for a faint shimmer, the bass eases to the front of the soundscape and plays an array of notes that are almost dizzying in their ability to calm. The music reminds listeners of what introspection sounds like, and then they remember that there should be guitar somewhere, and just like that, the high, nimble notes of an electric jazz guitar show up. The saxophone showcase reminds listeners of the days of classic bop. There is clattering percussion that adds to the energy of the song. Audiences get the idea that the song represents well-thought out art. As a title track, “Collective Thoughts” succeeds in prepping audiences for what is to come.

“Morning Silence” begins as a gentle meditation. The piano notes are at turns gentle and strident, but mostly, persistent, like a rain that can be described as beautiful. The mood remains as the saxophone blows in. The piano does not change its approach. Brushed drumbeats add texture to the song. The guitar plays poignant notes. Eventually, the piece’s energy picks up in terms of volume and other dynamics, but the basic meditation remains. It is interesting for listeners to track what has changed from the beginning of the song to its more hearty-sounding latter portion. Of course, the whole piece calms down and tension is built by long notes from the saxophone and bass. It is thrilling until its end. Wardenski’s academic approach might be best heard  here. The art and the scholarship of jazz come together to show audiences what “Morning Silence” feels like.

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