Frank Wess: Basel 1956 Part 1; Once is Not Enough; Hank and Frank II; Plays the Music of Irving Berlin (except one)
Hank Jones and Frank Wess
At 87, Frank Wess is a member of the exclusive jazz fraternity old enough to remember and have participated in the last years of the Swing Era. His was the Swing-to-bop generation, so his naming two swing and two bop tenor saxophonistsLester Young and Ben Webster, Johnny Griffin and Hank Mobleyas his favorites in The Encyclopedia of Jazz is appropriate and illuminating (note the absence of Coltrane and Rollins).
Coming up in the waning big band era of the late '40s, he played a robust, swinging tenor sax (also a smoother, often lead, alto sax), finally gaining prominence and spending most of his 30s and early 40s in Count Basie's New Testament big band. He also brought the flute into that band (having studied it before joining Basie), making him the first recognized jazz flutist of the post-Swing years. On Basel 1956 Part 1, a fairly early live recording of that New Testament band, he is part of the "two Franks" (Wess and Foster) tenor sax tandem in a big band that was as representative in its dynamics and unstoppable, propulsive swing of America's dominant spirit of the time as the dream-mobile behemoths that came out of Detroit. Wess' flute feature "Flute Juice" is one of his two solo spots, along with a rousing tenor sax contribution to "Sixteen Men Swingin'". The album itself is an adequately recorded, not more than typical, document of the Basie band in its New Testament prime, most notable for Track 9, "Unknown Title," a fetching heartbeat tempo piece with solos from trombone and muted trumpet (probably Joe Newman).
After leaving Basie, Wess kept busy in bands big and small, studio gigs and countless live and recorded sessions around New York, becoming a staple of the Big Apple jazz scene. The three new recordings here showcase different facets of Wess' current career, as well as diverse approaches to the CD album concept, with its invitingly long time span. One is a showcase for Wess' playing and composing (for a little big band), the second a collaboration with another member of the Swing-to-bop generation (Hank Jones) that also serves equally as a showcase for a young guitarist and veteran singer and the third a drumless piano trio date featuring Wess' flute on half the tracks. Once Is Not Enough is an engaging album, the seven nonet tracks including five Wess originals, plus his chart on "Sweet and Lovely," a flutes showcase with Wess sharing the solo space with Ted Nash and Scott Robinson, and Robinson's arrangement of "Fly Me to the Moon," the other Wess flute feature. Seven of the nine tracks feature Wess on tenor sax in diverse modes, from driving, mildly honking all out swing to breathy ballad lyricism. There's even an overt tribute to his Basie years, with drummer Winard Harper emulating Sonny Payne's famous backbeat, on "Tryin' To Make My Blues Turn Green". Two quartet ballad tracks reveal Wess' affinity for Billy Strayhorn directly in a rare (in its extended length) exploration of "Lush Life" and as a noticeable composing influence on Wess' own "Dementia, My Darling," where chord progressions and the ethereal bridge can only be called Strayhorn-esque.
Hank and Frank II, despite the title, only features Wess on six of the 15 tracks (and only on tenor sax, not flute too as the credits imply). Pianist Hank Jones is on all the tracks, in a duo context on five (for Wess and Jones in duo pick up Hank and Frank I), four of them with the underrated singer Marion Cowings, who includes such rarities as a paean to Ella and Ellington and his own evocative lyrics to Quincy Jones' "Quintessence". Wess adds Lester-ian obligati and solos to two other vocal tracks with the full band (guitarist Ilya Lushtak, bassist John Webber and drummer Mickey Roker) plus solos on four other band tracks. Lushtak, the other featured guest with Cowings, digs in to his features and solos with a bluesy Grant Green sensibility.
For Wess' flute in an intimate chamber jazz setting where he can be subtly swinging and gracefully lyrical, hear John Bunch's Plays the Music of Irving Berlin, with guitarist Frank Vignola and bassist Webber, in a truly engaging recital of Irving Berlin tunes that demonstrate how rich and deep Berlin's standards are for the savvy jazz player. While not as well-known or acclaimed as Hank Jones, pianist Bunch (only Jones' junior by four years) is an equally accomplished and supple Swing-to-bop pianist with a finely honed touch and creative harmonic sense.
Tracks and Personnel
Basel 1956 part 1
Tracks: You For Me; Shiny Stockings; Cherry Point; Sixteen Men Swingin'; Eventide; Mambo Inn; Backstage Blues; Flute Juice; Unknown Title; Blee Blop Blues; Yesterdays; Eddie Jones' Blues.
Personnel: Count Basie: piano; Wendell Culley, Reunald Jones Sr., Thad Jones, Joe Newman: trumpets; Henry Coker, Bill Hughes, Benny Powell: trombones; Marshal Royal, Bill Graham, Frank Foster, Frank Wess, Charlie Fowlkes: reeds; Freddie Green: guitar; Eddie Jones: bass; Sonny Payne: drums.
Once Is Not Enough
Tracks: Once Is Not Enough; Sara's Song; You Made a Good Move; Dementia, My Darling; Sweet and Lovely; Backfire; Lush Life; Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words); Tryin' to Make My Blues Turn Green.
Personnel: Frank Wess: tenor saxophone, flute; Frank Greene: trumpet; Terell Stafford: trumpet; Steve Turre: trombone; Ted Nash: alto saxophone, flute; Scott Robinson: bass saxophone, baritone saxophone, flute; Gerald Clayton: piano; Michael Weiss: piano (4, 7); Peter Washington: bass; Rufus Reid: bass (4, 7); Winard Harper: drums.
Hank and Frank
Tracks: Sunday; Lord Prepare Me; More Than You Know; If I Were A Bell; I Had The Craziest Dream; When Your Lover Has Gone; Chasing The Bird; Ill Wind; Jordu; The First Time I Saw Ella; Quintessence; You Don't Know What Love Is; Stay As Sweet As You Are; For All We Know; I'll Be Seeing You.
Personnel: Hank Jones: piano; Frank Wess: flute, saxophone, tenor saxophone; Mickey Roker: drums; John Webber: upright bass, bass guitar; Ilya Lushtak: guitar; Marion Cowings: vocals.
Plays the Music of Irving Berlin (except one)
Tracks: Soft Lights and Sweet Music; Coquette; How Deep Is The Ocean?; What´ll I Do?; I´ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm; The Best Thing For You; Isn´t This a Lovely Day?; I´m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket; They Say It´s Wonderful; All By Myself; Better Luck Next Time; Change Partners.
Personnel: John Bunch: piano; Frank Vignola: guitar; John Webber: bass; Frank Wess: flute (2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12).