Fred Hess Big Band / Timucua Jazz Orchestra / Michael Treni
Fred Hess Big Band
When listening to Hold On, composer / arranger / saxophonist Fred Hess' fourteenth album as leader but first in front of a big band, one question immediately arises: What took him so long? As it turns out, recording his own big band has been a long-held dream, one Hess has been considering "for years." Following a number of well-received albums including nearly half a dozen quartet sessions with drummer Matt Wilson, the time was finally right, and Hess ushered his blue-chip band into Denver's Notably Fine Audio recording studio in January 2009. To borrow a well-worn phrase, the resulting CD was definitely worth waiting for.
Aside from a few cacophonous lapses (on "Gypsy / Chuggin,'" "RBHMKNNK" and "The Clefs"), this is high-grade big-band fare all the way, with provocative charts by Hess, impressive blowing by the ensemble and persuasive solos by almost everyone who steps forward. As to the discord, Hess' purpose was to honor big-band music from the 1950s onward, and that includes themes by Gary McFarland ("Gypsy"), Anthony Braxton ("RBHM") and, presumably, a parody of Sun Ra ("The Clefs," which comes complete with vocal sound effects and lengthy written synopsis by Hess). Elsewhere, Hess adheres more closely to the norm, and it is here that the album is most pleasing.
The curtain-raiser, "Good Question," is a charming 12-bar blues with crisp solos by Hess on tenor, trombonist Tom Ball, alto John Gunther and drummer Wilson (who kick-starts a sterling rhythm section that includes pianist Marc Sabatella and bassist Ken Filiano) and cavernous intro and coda by bass trombonist Gary Mayne. "For Thomas" is Hess' salute to the late great Canadian composer / arranger Rob McConnell (Hess doesn't explain why it's "For Thomas," not "For Rob"). The solos are by Sabatella and trumpeter Al Hood. Hess and fellow tenor Dominic Lalli lock horns (a la Johnny Griffin and Lockjaw Davis) on "Hold On," which precedes an opulent arrangement that blends Gabriel Faure's "Sicilienne" with the traditional folk song "Greensleeves," and the capricious "Opposites Attract" (solos by Filiano and trumpeter Ron Miles). Hess bows to one of his tenor sax heroes, Bill Perkins, on "A Night to Remember," after which yet another trumpeter, Brad Goode, nimbly darts and dances "On Perry Street."
Hess certainly covers all the bases, and does so with deftness and elan over the album's 78 minute playing time. A bright contemporary session that more than achieves its purpose.
The Timucua Jazz Orchestra
Live @ Timucua
There are at least three things that can be avowed with certainty about Live @ Timucua: the Timucua Jazz Orchestra hails from the Orlando, Florida, area; its leader is composer / arranger / trumpeter Benoit Glazer; and the members of the ensemble are by no means novices. Glazer, who limits his duties to conducting apart from "Rupture" and, "Marche pour L'Enfer," on which he solos, gives his colleagues plenty of tough meat to chew on, and every morsel is cleanly and efficiently consumed. This one of those CD-plus-DVD packages, and that's a good thing, as there's not only a chance to hear but also to see the orchestra in action. However, three of the more engaging numbersthe standard "Out of Nowhere," Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Dindi" and Wayne Shorter's "Yes or No"appear only on the DVD.
What remains are Bill Coon's buoyant "Blues for Two," Alex Clements' "Cycles I" and "Cycles II" (the last, at more than 18 minutes, far overstaying its welcome) and five selections co-written by Glazer including four with Michel Cusson. The music is essentially likable, the ensemble earnest and ready. From the looks of things, the album was recorded in Glazer's (or someone's) living room or den; given the circumstances, the recorded sound is generally above average, even though some ensemble passages are not as well-marked as they could be and Keith Wilson's drums are sometimes heavy-handed (but that may be occasioned more by his ebullient style than by the recording itself). As noted, some of the highlights can be found only on the DVD including splendid solos by trumpeter Tom Parmerter and tenor Tom Dietz on "Out of Nowhere" and by trombonist Keith Oshiro on "Dindi."