Cory Wong is quickly becoming one of our favorite guitarists in the live music scene. A frequent collaborator with fan-favorite minimalist funk ensemble, Vulfpeck, Wong is known for his pristine and rhythmically-oriented lead guitar style, his animated performances, and his charming onstage demeanor. Outside of Vulfpeck, the guitarist keeps himself busy with his work with Vulfpeck spin-off The Fearless Flyers as well as his own solo career touring with the Cory Wong Band.
Today, Cory Wong released his highly anticipated sophomore solo album, The Optimist. The album comes on the heels of his decision in 2017 to step out on his own with the release of his critically acclaimed self-titled debut album.
As detailed in a press release,
Why The Optimist? At age 16, after suffering a concussive head injury, Wong had been told he had two weeks to live. Or maybe he would be fine. The doctors honestly weren’t sure why his right arm kept going numb, but following a month-and-a-half of visits and tests and second opinions, their best guess was that he had a blood clot with the potential to reach his brain at any moment. If that happened, death would be nearly instantaneous. …
Wong survived, of course, and while his symptoms eventually faded away, the relentlessly defiant brand of optimism he cultivated that summer never did. In fact, nearly two decades later, it forms the bedrock of his ecstatic new album, The Optimist. Recorded in spontaneous sessions with a series of all-star lineups, the collection showcases both Wong’s prodigious instrumental virtuosity and his broad emotional reach. The songs are profoundly funky, infectiously joyful, and as playful as they are peerless. Paired with his quirky music videos, the tracks feel retro and futuristic all at once. At a time of bitter political strife and deep cultural divisions, Wong has crafted something truly unifying: an album that delights in the pleasures of human connection and revels in the limitless possibility of artistic collaboration.
As Wong explains about the creation of The Optimist, “I got a call one day from Ricky Peterson, who’s played organ with David Sanborn and George Benson. He was coming to town, so I told him I had some tunes I was working on and we should get together and record them the following week. The only problem was I didn’t actually have any songs and I didn’t have a session booked.”
However, in keeping in the name of his forthcoming album, Wong made it work. In just six days, the funky guitarist wrote a number of brand-new tunes and put together a rhythm section to record the album featuring his longtime mentors from Prince‘s band, drummer Michael Bland and bassist Sonny Thompson. After a successful initial recording session, Wong curated a totally different lineup of musicians for another recording day in Minneapolis, then added a third recording session in Nashville with the Ben Rector Band backing him.
With the initial tracks laid out, Cory Wong sent the tracks off to a number of collaborators around the world. German star Marti Fischer recorded for the album from Berlin, and British singer KATIS contributed from London. Wong also sought out a number of special guests stateside, including friend and fellow Vulfpeck collaborator Antwaun Stanley, Ripe frontman Robbie Wulfsohn, and Prince’s legendary horn section, The Hornheads.
The Hornheads are best known as Prince’s horn section, and their leader, Michael Nelson, did most of the horn arrangements for Prince. The guys are all 20-30 years older than us, but we fit right in as friends because they love seeing young musicians with such passion. Michael told me that after Prince died, it was really fun for him to find a new artist to work with on stuff like this, and it’s been a great community-building thing. We even have a musicians’ racquetball club together now.
You can catch Cory Wong on the road this fall, so check out his tour dates below. For more information on the album or ticketing, head to Cory Wong’s website here.
Cory Wong Upcoming Tour Dates
8/17 – Pittsboro, NC – The BIG What?
8/18 – Asheville, NC – Taproom at Sierra Nevada
8/19 – Knoxville, TN – The Concourse (at The International)
8/21 – Atlanta, GA – Aisle 5
8/24 – Indianapolis, IN – HI-FI Indy
8/25 – Fort Wayne, IN – Two EE’s Winery
10/7 – Madrid, Spain – Sala Clamores
10/10 – Cologne, Germany – Club Bahnhof Ehrenfeld
10/11 – Berlin, Germany – Gretchen
10/13 – Den Haag, Netherlands – Mondriaan Jazz Festival
10/14 – Stockholm, Sweden – Stockholm Jazz Festival
10/16 – Amsterdam, Netherlands – Bitterzoet
10/17 – Rotterdam, Netherlands – BIRD
10/19 – Zurich, Switzerland – Moods
10/20 – Fribourg, Switzerland – La Spirale
10/21 – Milan, Italy – Blue Note
10/25 – Live Oak, FL – Suwannee Hulaween
11/17 – Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre