The single most striking difference between Fred Hess' latest recording and all of his earlier efforts is the relaxed and joyful feel of the music contained herein. Tyranny to form, an element of Hess' recordings that has caught too much of my attention in the past, is gone, amended by said relaxation and joy. This unassuming release documents a substantial step forward in the realization, if not the compositional understanding of Hess' music by other players. He has chosen an outstanding and simpatico group of musicians to share in his musical vision, and that is a big part of the overall genius of this music. Each participant brings a lot to the table.
Matt Wilson may be the foundation of the relaxed mastery found here. His calm command of the timekeeping chores imbues a confidence to help set such demanding music free from the strictures of rigid forms. It brings a fluidity to Hess' music unlike any I've heard from him before, thus adding to the evolutionary tenor of this work. Ken Filiano comes to the table with a forceful intelligence teeming with presence and verve. He brings to mind the bass perspectives of Reggie Workman, Scott LaFaro, and Jimmy Garrison without any sense of imitation. He also swings like a madhatter at a card show! He'd be a valuable asset to any band.
Ron Miles is one of a small handful of trumpet players who can bring so much vibe and so many ideas into a musical situation, yet call such little attention to himself. His relationship with Hess is decades old, he was an original member of Hess' BCME (Boulder Creative Music Ensemble) back in the early '80s, and Hess often played in Miles' Trio Plus group to great effect. There is an understanding between these players that only time can build. The palpable depth and intimacy of their musical association can be felt and heard throughout the proceedings presented on this disc.
Fred Hess is a unique bird. He has always written difficult charts with lots of notes and tricky rhythm structures. He comes out of a curious school of thought which embraces equally the luxurious tone and lyricism of Lester Young in one arm and the exploratory revelations of the AACM in the other. Hess' vast field of influences is fully integrated into his own concepts of composition and improvisation. He is extremely sophisticated in both realms. This album is his finest sonic document to date; filled to the brim with excellent musicianship, passion, and panache.
This is an absolute gem of modern music and it comes across as being one hell of a lot of fun to have been a part of... highly recommended!
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Personnel: Fred Hess-Tenor Saxophone; Ron Miles-Trumpet; Ken Filiano-Bass; Matt Wilson-Drums