Between when this disc was made and now, saxist/flautist Frank Wess sadly passed on (Oct. 30, 2013). In his day, the guy worked with a Who's Who of great jazzmen and jazzwomen, was a member of the bands of Billy Eckstine, Count Basie, Clark Terry, Roland Hanna, and others. He also worked in TV and was a member of the momentous Jazz Composer's Orchestra, not to mention winning Downbeat's poll for flute 5 years in a row. The cat was formidable. I covered his Magic 101 last year (here), and this disc is its follow-on.
When I keep saying that a lot was lost in the way of saxophone music between a few decades ago and now—with the advent of The Wave, Le Jazz Lite, and other factors—Wess is one of a number of contrastive exemplars I'm referring to. Frank preferred unhurried tempi and notes full to bursting with color and gravity. He played dedicated lines that spoke rather than just dogmatically reflexed the melodies off the staves, and everything came invested with emotional resonance and considered intelligence. After Paris demonstrates that in full on sax and is followed by an equally impressive solo flute rendering in The Summer Knows, Prokofievian in its classicalities, unorthodox in vivid evocations. Somewhere in the Great Ballroom In The Sky, Hubert Laws is beaming as he greets Frank coming through the gates.
Of course, then there's the care spent on embellishment and accompaniment by an Olympian session band: Kenny Baron (piano), Russell Malone (guitar), Rufus Reid (bass), and Winard Harper (drums). Barron's as beautifully restrained here as in the previous disc, lines whispering and shimmering, and the rest of the band either plays beneath him or drops back according to the atmospheres required in each cut. Pay attention, though, to Harper's traps in the opening track, leavened with the perfect amount of verve and punch, just enough to really perk up the rhythm beneath Wess but not so much that he treads on anyone's toes, the sax finding itself all the more illuminated. Sigh! If ya gotta go out, and we all do, this is sure a great way to do so, in the fullness of your talent even at age 91, as a statesman, a gentleman, and, most of all, an Artist with a capital 'A'.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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