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 Dale Bruning and flutist/alto saxophonist John Gunther, who was featured on their previous session, In The Grotto (Alison, 2007). A one time member of vibraphonist Red Norvo's quintet, Bruning is a distinctive stylist and long-time educator whose roster of famous guitar students includes Bill Frisell.
The predominance of traditional material lends this date a far more mainstream aura than Hess' usual output. Two sublime pieces by Benny Golson ("Thursday's Theme" and "Out of the Past"), a sensitive tenor and guitar duet on Kaper and Kahn's "While My Lady Sleeps" and a tender solo guitar rendition of Rogers and Hart's "Spring is Here" are given elegant readings. Bruning contributes two of his own tunes, the lilting waltz "Dancing with Daffodils" and the Rollins-esque calypso "Port O' Call," which provide rhythmic variety.
Hess' ability to pen a timeless tune is exemplified by the seamlessness with which his originals blend into a session dominated by standards. "Blues for Bonnie Bell" is a casual blues, while "Norman's Gold" is a buoyant swinger. Replete with punchy counterpoint, ebullient rhythms and a series of interweaving solos, the tune is reminiscent of the modernist Post-War efforts of Oliver Nelson and George Russell.
Only "Return of the Clefs" and the title track veer into 'outside' territory. The continuing saga of Hess' favorite fictional family is a dissonant tone poem of chattering horns and radiant percussive accents that coalesce into a faltering march rhythm that recalls The Art Ensemble of Chicago.
A tribute to the late saxophonist Michael Brecker, the titular "Single Moment," is the album's climactic centerpiece. An episodic composition that ranges from buoyant to introspective, this loosely constructed, airy suite is composed around some of Brecker's key themes and features brief searching statements from each member of the group.
Reworking the tradition from his own unique perspective, Hess avoids radical deconstructions of standard material, choosing instead to deal with these tunes as venerable classics. An incisive set that spans the history of jazz, this date sheds new light on Hess' abilities as an arranger and interpreter, rather than his deft skills as a soloist, making Single Moment his most accessible and refined recording.
Personnel: Fred Hess: tenor saxophone; Ron Miles: trumpet; John Gunther: flute, alto saxophone; Dale Bruning: guitar; Ken Filiano: bass; Matt Wilson: drums.