The title of San Diego flute virtuoso Holly Hofmann’s latest disc, "Low Life: The Alto Flute Project," needn’t cause her fans any worry. No, she hasn’t gotten lost in an exploration of her dark side – the title references her decision to make an entire record using the alto flute, which is bigger and lower in pitch from the standard "C" flute.
Harder to master, the rewards are a darker, more sensual sound immediately evident as she glides along the contours of guitarist Anthony Wilson’s "Jack of Hearts," with a tone richer than Warren Buffett’s portfolio. Wilson dips deep into the blues wellspring and Hofmann’s solo is brimming with effusive ideas.
Hofmann assembled a stellar veteran cast for "Low Life," including her husband, the master pianist Mike Wofford, the aforementioned Wilson, and the ace rhythm section of John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton -- whose mainstream credentials are justifiably redoubtable.
Wofford’s sublime harmonies underpin Hofmann’s gentle caresses of Clayton’s melody on "Touch the Fog," and he frames her soulful essay with uncanny support. Clayton’s own solo stirs the perfect blend of chops, sound, and heart. Hamilton’s buoyant brushwork cements a bedrock of vibrant support, upon which Wilson and Hofmann soar with keening expression on Ben Schachter’s "Grow (for Dick Oatts)."
The flutist’s lone original on the date, "Lumiere de la Vie," features lush piano and arco bass weaving around Hofmann’s amber glow, which is so gorgeous – if it doesn’t inspire you to groan out loud at some point during her solo – you might possibly be dead. She massages every drop of seductive romance from her instrument on Ray Noble’s “The Very Thought of You,” a masterful duet with Wofford that is almost agonizing in its raw intimacy.
Ballads and languid swing toggle for attention throughout this album (which was recently nominated for Best Jazz Album for the 2014 San Diego Music Awards), and John Williams’ "Make Me Rainbows," is a perfect representation of the latter, cruising effortlessly on the heartbeat pulse of Clayton and the swirling brushes of Hamilton – Wofford and Hofmann aim for the skies.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.