Tal Wilkenfeld is a virtuoso bassist with serious jazz, rock and fusion credentials who was playing with the likes of Jeff Beck, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Krantz by the age of 23, and has spent the years since working with artists as diverse as Todd Rundgren, Ryan Adams and Macy Gray.
But when Wilkenfeld, now 29, took a break from her opening slot on the current Who tour to bring her own band to the Tralf Music Hall on Wednesday, anyone hoping to hear and see the bass wunderkind merely offer a lesson in otherworldly chops was in for a bit of a shock.
Wilkenfeld offered a packed Tralf a taste of her forthcoming album of original songs, none of which even vaguely resembled the fusion and neo-soul she so masterfully played with the big-name artists who’d hand-picked her for their own projects.
[Read Jeff Miers' preview & context for Wilkenfeld's show]
The Tralf audience was comprised almost exclusively of Buffalo–area musicians, many of them bassists – from erstwhile Nick Jonas bassist Zuri Appleby to gospel legend Cal Parmer and tenured four-string rock icon Kent Weber. Clearly, Wilkenfeld was expected to live up to her reputation as a killer manipulator of the low-end. She did that, but she did it with subtlety. The emphasis was on her singing, the songs themselves, and the interplay between young but musically mature band.
Wilkenfeld’s songs often are dramatic, blending elements of alternative rock with the varied time signatures and surprising chord changes of prog-rock. Her voice is a keening instrument, able of scaling the heights of her often ambitious melodies, which at one turn echoed a Celtic influence and at the next sounded like a young Robert Plant.Fans of Steven Wilson’s solo work were probably more at home with what Wilkenfeld and her band were offering than were the neo-soul and fusion-heads. Wilkenfeld surely knew this going in, but she displayed fortitude, full commitment and abundant confidence throughout her set, selling material the audience had never heard – her album is not due until the summer – without appearing to be at all nervous about it.
In addition to her own genre-stretching songs, Wilkenfeld chose some uber-cool tunes to cover, among them revamped arrangements of pieces by the Smiths and Jeff Buckley. (Wilkenfeld and band’s version of the latter’s bittersweet “Last Goodbye” was heartrendingly epic.) And yes, she did display her abundant gifts as a bassist across a variety of compositions and on a variety of instruments, including a Fender jazz bass, an old Harmony semi-hollow body, and a mouth-wateringly gorgeous Sadowsky five-string. (The gear-heads had plenty of beautiful instruments to ogle.)
Wilkenfeld was thrown into the deep end of the pool at a very young age, and much of her reputation rests on the work she has done for other bandleaders. On Wednesday, she turned the tables, surprising many in attendance with the persistence of vision in her own compositions. One suspects she has a bright future ahead of her as much more than a session musician.
Wednesday at the Tralf Music Hall