Flutology: First Date (2003)
Flutology is a new sextet powered by three remarkable flute masters, the most famous being Frank Wess. Wess brought a sparkling flute sound to Count Basie's 1953 big band, and here he emerges a half century later in a small group setting more bop-centered than swing-focused. With Holly Hofman on C flute and Ali Ryerson on C and alto flute, and Wess on C and bass flute, the group establishes a profound empathy, a telepathic sounding communication that is thrilling, fresh, and thoughtful. Pianist Mike Wofford grounds this ethereal trinity with smart arrangements and some tasteful soloing, while the nearly self effacing rhythm section of bassist Peter Washington and drummer Ben Riley offer solid support while letting the flutes assume their proper place in the spotlight.
This well programmed and well recorded studio set opens with an energetic workout on Charlie Parker's "Be Bop," a lovingly lyrical cover of Lee Morgan's "Ceora" with a shining solo by Hofman, a perky cover of Hank Mobley's "This I Dig of You," plus a handful of Wess originals, including the aptly titled "Pretty Is." The distinct personalities of the flutists shine through since there's an overwhelming sense of non-competitiveness among the players, each taking generous solos.
Also uniting them is a love of a warm and smooth tone rooted in classical flute. They connect to the Hubert Laws/James Newton camp, avoiding the highly vocalized flute tone established by Roland Kirk and Yusef Lateef. For far too many decades the flute, let alone the flute ensemble, has held a marginalized position in jazz. What Howard Johnson's band Gravity did to redeem the unjustly marginalized tuba, Flutology promised to do for the flute.
Even more significantly, I have rarely heard a band with a three musician front line in recent years with so many creative ideas that seamlessly mesh. This is simply a great mainstream jazz album of 2003 by any standard, and the fact that it showcases flutes makes it that much more singular and breathtaking.
Track Listing: 1. Be Bop, 2. Ceora, 3. Sump' Went Wrong, 4. Rainesville, 5. This I Dig of You, 6. Pretty Is, 7. Equal Parts, 8. A Child is Borm, 9. Flutopia.
Personnel: Frank Wess, Holly Hofman, Ali Ryerson, Mike Wofford, Peter Washington, Ben Riley.