Appearances, as they say, can be deceiving. On the cover of The Long and Short of It, the grey-haired and bespectacled Fred Hess wears a standard blue dress shirt beneath a conservative sweater vest. It's a look that might make you guess the sounds he's offering up here are a set of time-tested standards, played in a traditional, maybe even tepid, manner.
Sometimes you just can't judge a disc by its cover, though. The Long and Short of It picks up where the Denver-based saxophonist's Extended Family (Tapestry, 2002) left off. The pianoless quartet (sax, trumpet, bass and drums) takes advantage of the looseness of the compostions to extract a maximum of improvisation. It's not wailing, screaming and gnashing of teeth free jazz, but a more contained and ruminative set of sounds... with the occasional "out there" interlude to prove me wrong, I note, as I listen to trumpeter Ron Miles cut loose on the title tune.
Hess has brought in a couple of high profile sidemen for this outing: Miles, whose last two CDs, Heaven and Laughing Barrel (Sterling Circle Records, 2002 & 2003), were much listened to and talked about, and often top ten-listed; and drummer Matt Wilson, formerly of the Boston-based Either/Orchestra, who has recently begun touring and recording under his own leadership— Arts and Crafts (Palmetto, 2001)
Hess has a burnished Lester Young sax sound that gets airy in the quieter moments, and he and Miles riff off each other like magic while Wilson weaves loose textures behind them.
Essential to the success of this disc is bassist Ken Filiano. If Hess has the appearance of a mild-manner professor, Filiano—burly, thick chested and broad-backed—looks like someone you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. I only mention this because he plays the bass like that "alley" guy, producing a muscular, straight ahead, aggressive sound that seems to border on menace, with a gravitational power in the middle that allows the horn men a freer reign for their ruminations. Or maybe his presence muscles those brass and reeds sounds around. Who knows?
This is great follow-up to last year's Extended Family. The same mood, same attitude, with two new voices in the mix. Additionally, Matt Wilson shows off his prowess with an electic drill on "Gear Tips," a percussive texture that suggests a whole new array of hardware store sonic possibilities.
Visit Fred Hess on the web; or contact Tapestry Records at PO Box 892, Bailey, CO 80421-0892.
Track Listing: Norman Says, Skippin' In, Happened Yesterday, MLE, The Clef's go to the Big City, From Bottom to Top, The Long and Short of It, Gear Tips, The Last Trance
Personnel: Fred Hess--tenor saxophone; Ron Miles--trumpet; Ken Filiano--bass; Matt Wilson--drums and electric drill