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Fred Hess Quartet: Crossed Paths

Dan McClenaghan By

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Listening to "On Perry St.," the opening cut on Denver-based saxophonist Fred Hess' Crossed Paths —a song that thumps in on a rock-ish beat (by Matt Wilson) and a big loping bass line (by Ken Filiano), followed by some loose two horn harmony—I'm struck, on Hess's first solo of the disc, by what pretty noise the man makes with his horn. Combining perfect control with a sense of fun and wonder and a Lester Young-ish tone, telling us a facinating story with lots of little quirks and turns, he shines. And then trumpeter Ron Miles takes a turn (ditto on the pretty noise) that ushers in a gear shift for the rhythm guys, pulling back behind Miles' softer-edged sound that works as a perfect counterpoint to Hess's more urgent sax.

Crossed Paths is the second release by this particular group, and it moves the vision of last year's excellent The Long and Short of It (also on Tapestry) ahead a notch or two. Their sound—for an ear that listens to a great deal of free jazz—feels very approachable and melodic. The two horn (sax and trumpet) lineup without a chording instrument was pioneered by baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and pushed to the outer limits by altoist Ornette Coleman and trumpeter Don Cherry; and now Fred Hess and company push things around a bit and give the sound their own distinct collective personality.

A constant in Hess' three Tapestry quartet discs—the first, Extended Family, with trumpeter Paul Smoker and drummer Damon Short, is also a first rate set—is bassist Ken Filiano, who grabs the ear with an assertive sound that bounces around the horn guys with a "you lookin' at me?" attitude.

And just listen to Hess's opening solo on "Funhouse": the sounds he makes—not always the case in the freer end of jazz—are gorgeous. We also revisit the Clef Family, whom we met on Extended Family and The Long and Short of It, with "The Clef's Visit Grandma." They prove themselves again a raucous clan—and having mentioned Hess's melodicism, this one edges closer to to the screeching and squabbling side of free jazz, with Hess and Miles blowing interludes that sound like two sea gulls fighting over a French fry.

"Mystery Woman" takes the set into a somber chamber jazz mood, a bit reminiscent of some of Trio X's work on the CIMP label; and the closer, "Untying the Knot," begins the same way, with Filiano bowing, leading the group in painting some darker colors before things shift into a more up-tempo and brighter mode, then back to the dark side again...

An outstanding set! In the quartet sans chording instrument, nobody does it better.

Visit Fred Hess on the web.


Track Listing: On Perry St., Zane, In the No, Knitwit for Tara, Funhouse, The Clef's Visit Grandma's, Crossed Paths, Mystery Woman, Untying the Knot

Personnel: Fred hess--tenor saxophone; Ron Miles--trumpet; Ken Filiano--bass; Matt Wilson--drums

Title: Crossed Paths | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Tapestry

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