“Mike Wollenberg is a magician of solo guitar... He has the unusual ability to play very technically challenging passages so smoothly that he consistently makes me forget about the difficulty and compels me simply to enjoy the music."
“The San Francisco Bay Area has been harboring a secret in the realm of great guitarists and that secret is Mike Wollenberg.
By Matthew Warnock
JUST JAZZ GUITAR
"San Francisco based guitarist Mike Wollenberg and violinist Julian Smedley have come together to produce a very unique and interesting album with A Common Language. Though the violin is not new to the jazz idiom, Stephane Grappelli and Regina Carter have helped bring the instrument into the mainstream; the guitar/violin duo is a relatively unheard of combination. Though Smedley does lay down some rhythm guitar, mostly comping for Wollenberg’s solos, the vast majority of the album features the violin and guitar playing together.
These two musicians work very well together throughout the entire album. While chemistry between musicians is important in any ensemble setting it is of utmost importance with a duo, especially one as exposed as this. Both musicians rise to the occasion on every track as they use a liberal amount of space and texture to bring out the most of the harmonic and melodic possibilities a duo like this affords. Some of the most poignant moments on the album are when both musicians are playing single lines. No Greater Lee features a single note section where Wollenberg and Smedley sound as if they are one musician playing two instruments.
Wollenberg’s playing centers mostly around the swing jazz genre, with a little bebop and some modern touches here and there. One of Wollenberg’s biggest assets is his ability to seamlessly move between textures between tunes, or sometimes during a tune. On I'll Remember April Wollenberg starts out with a very ethereal strum pattern that sets the mood for Smedley’s melody and solo sections. Then when it comes time to solo, Wollenberg switches between arpeggiated chords and single lines which bring the listener into a whole new sonic realm. It is these changes of texture that really make this duo work, and helps make the album as a whole such a success.
I highly recommend this album to any fan of jazz guitar and jazz violin. Even those who have never checked out jazz violin will no doubt enjoy Smedley’s playing and the beautiful textures these two master musicians weave together. Check out A Common Language, it is definitely worth the money."