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Fred Hess Big Band: Speak

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In the liner notes to Speak, saxophonist/band leader Fred Hess makes an important point: although the golden era of traveling big bands is long past, the big band format lives on in school ensembles, as well as through individuals such as himself, whose love for this format plows right through all the logistical difficulties. Anyone seeking proof that big bands are flourishing need only listen to this third CD by the Fred Hess Big Band: all six songs are multifaceted gems, delectable panoramas of sound that continue to blossom with subsequent listening. Part of being a big band ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Fred Hess Big Band: Into the Open

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Denver, Colorado-based tenor saxophonist/bandleader Fred Hess isn't one to sit around and wait for the muse to pay a visit. He boasts fifteen CDs as a leader, cranking one out every year now for better than a decade. His profile rose on the surge of a set of small group outings, beginning with Crossed Paths (Tapestry, 2005), and culminating--small group-wise--with Single Moment (Alison, 2008), on which he experimented by expanding, very successfully, his free jazz quartet to a sextet. Hess made the leap to the big band arena with the outstanding Hold On (Dazzle Records, 2009), which had ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Fred Hess Big Band: Hold On

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Originally from Abington, Pennsylvania, tenor saxophonist Fred Hess has resided in Denver, Colorado since 1981. Though Denver is not often considered a hotbed of progressive jazz, Hess, as founder of the Boulder Creative Music Ensemble and Denver's Creative Music Works Orchestra, has fashioned an alternative to the East Coast/West Coast paradigm. With 14 albums as a leader to his credit, Hess and his regular collaborators have documented a fertile body of work, with many tunes from his burgeoning songbook featured on Hold On, Hess' first big band album.

First heard together on The Long and Short of It (Tapestry, 2004), ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Fred Hess Big Band: Hold On

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Fred Hess has been prolific this millennium. For those familiar with the Denver-based saxophonist's last six discs, however, Hold On may come as a surprise. Since 2004, Hess has immersed himself in the art of the piano-less quartet, before augmenting his group--first, with a second saxophonist, and then a guitarist, moving from quintet to sextet and offering up a fresh and energetic take on free jazz.With Hold On, Hess jumps into the big band arena for the first time, with stunning success.This ambitious foray into the big band arena sounds like a set that Hess always ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

The Fred Hess Band: Single Moment

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Tenor saxophonist Fred Hess has been something of an adventurer with his music. He has not only gone past the obvious in his interpretation of tunes, he has also been unafraid to get into different genres. That he has been successful tells his tale.

Hess adds guitarist Dale Bruning to his tried and true quintet of Ron Miles (trumpet), John Gunther (flute, alto saxophone), Ken Filiano (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums). Bruning infuses a different character to the music with his dynamics, no matter if he is plumb in the middle of the band or in a conversation ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

The Fred Hess Band: Single Moment

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Tenor saxophonist Fred Hess blew off on a free tangent in 2002 with Exposed (CIMP Records), employing an Ornette Coleman style quartet containing two horns, bass and drums. He followed up on that approach with three excellent Tapestry Records discs, Extended Family (2003), The Long and Short of It (2004), and Crossed Paths (2005), with the latter pair cementing the Ken Filiano (bass), Ron Miles (trumpet) and Matt Wilson (drums) line-up that has carried over to Hess' more recent quintet albums, How 'Bout Now (Tapestry, 2006) and In the Grotto (Alison Records, 2007).A constant on these sets from ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

The Fred Hess Band: Single Moment

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Denver-based tenor saxophonist Fred Hess is an under-sung yet vital presence in the Mid-Western jazz scene. His current quartet with Ron Miles (trumpet), Ken Filiano (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums) first recorded together on The Long and Short of It (Tapestry, 2004). A prolific post-bop ensemble, they have issued three follow-up albums in as many years, and while they have often been joined by another horn player, the core line-up has not changed.

Dominated by standards and classic covers, Single Moment is somewhat of a departure for Hess and his veteran ensemble. The quartet is joined by guitarist ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

The Fred Hess Band: In the Grotto

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The opening cut on The Fred Hess Band's In the Grotto, “Simple Steps," is a curious mix of whimsy and menace, stunning technical virtuosity and free form good times, a malleable weave of the eloquent and the intricate in his solos as he blows between the tight ensemble sections, all within the saxophonist's loose-jointed compositions. It's a sound that has a beautiful, slightly cerebral and, at times, slightly daft--with a method to the madness--feeling to it.Tenor saxophonist Hess's artistry took an evolutionary leap with his piano-less quartet disc, Extended Family (Tapestry Records, 2002). He has since put out, ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

The Fred Hess Band: In The Grotto

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In The Grotto is Denver-based composer and tenor saxophonist Fred Hess' twelfth album as a leader and the fourth to feature members of his long-running quartet. The Long and Short of It (Tapestry, 2004) and Crossed Paths (Tapestry, 2005) featured trumpeter Ron Miles, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Matt Wilson. How 'Bout Now (Tapestry, 2006) expanded the quartet to a quintet with Mark Harris on alto saxophone. Continuing in this format, multi-instrumentalist John Gunther replaces Harris, making his debut with the veteran line-up on this stunning new album.

Hess' writing is one of gradual progression; in terms of ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Fred Hess Band: How 'Bout Now

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Fred Hess says that after four recordings with a quartet, he wanted to change the makeup of his group, so he added a horn: cornet player Ron Miles. The music grooves, even as Hess chooses the groove in different ways. He takes his compositions along divergent paths. There is no gainsaying which way a tune will go, which recesses it will duck into, what plateau it will rise from, or which music it will dwell on. All make valid and definitive points.

Hess serves notice right from the opening track, but the next three, which combine to make ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Fred Hess Band: How 'Bout Now

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In this postmodern era of multiple working groups and all-star recording sessions, consistent jazz bands seem ever harder to maintain. Developing an intuitive working relationship with a consistent lineup may be a rarity today, but not so with Colorado-based tenor saxophonist Fred Hess' group. This is his third recording in as many years with the same core lineup.

The veteran rhythm section of bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Matt Wilson continues to elevate the game to virtually telepathic levels, once again proving a symbiotic pair. The mercurial Wilson sounds especially suited to Hess' eclectic vision. Hess' favorite sparring ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Fred Hess Band: How 'Bout Now

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If you go down the list of categories eligible for Grammy Awards, you'll find Field 10 (Jazz), category 47, which is “Best Instrumental Solo." So the Grammy folks are telling us that out of all the jazz CDs released in a given year--thousands of discs that must contain almost uncountable solos--they've been able to isolate just one interlude, one inspired rant that is the best.If they can do that, they're better than I am. But I can narrow things down, and what's hard to understand is how tenor saxophonist Fred Hess has been overlooked in this category these ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Fred Hess Quartet: Crossed Paths

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Saxophonist Fred Hess' latest release on the independent Colorado-based Tapestry label is his quartet's best. With trumpeter Ron Miles, bassist Ken Filiano, and drummer Matt Wilson, Crossed Paths features a more tight-knit unit and a composer more comfortable writing for this particular ensemble. Like eclectic trumpeter Dave Douglas, the unheralded Hess is versed in the tradition as much as the avant-garde style, and the excitement of not knowing when he is going to draw on one or the other is what makes his albums so enjoyable. His composition is influenced largely by the “free yet systematic writing ...

CD/LP/TRACK REVIEW

Fred Hess Quartet: Crossed Paths

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Crossed Paths is state-of-the-art modern jazz. The members of Colorado tenor saxophonist Fred Hess' quartet explore his themes from every conceivable angle, ranging from skipping swing to brittle abstraction. And there's a blues, too.

Hess appears to enjoy a growing reputation, and he deserves it. He's a monster musician, a saxophonist with a full, distinctive tone, ample chops, and a conception that embraces the tradition, the present, and the future. His solo on the fast “On Perry St." is a fine example of his ability to juggle abstract materials with long melodic lines that reflect the inspiration of ...



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