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 "Sweet for Susie, provide an incontrovertible body of evidence. "Sooz Blooz is a romping blues, the horns locked in an opening embrace before Hess comes on strong with the tenor saxophone. A slew of ideas tumble from his horn and strike Miles, who blazes his own avenuespurred by Matt Wilson, whose drumming creates entrancing filigrees, and Ken Filiano, who scampers on the bass and adds an irresistible solo.
The mood changes on "Song for Susan as Hess lays a plaintive line. The interaction between Hess and altoist Mark Harris, with Filiano playing arco, is stunning in its empathy. The final segment, "Scarlett's Dance, goes through movements of its own as the quintet changes direction and pulsea little bop, a classical air, a flamboyant arch that stretches into some free blowing from Hess, and some snappy alto from Harris completing the circle.
Hess comes in swinging on "B. Quick, which goes on to suppleness in tandem with the other horns. But as he has shown, Hess is not content to let predictability shape the course of his music, and he goes off in a tangent of cogent ideas which alter the dynamics and roam the highway of free expression. This piece is also a showcase for Wilson, whose eloquence crafts time and rhythm.
Even as Hess asks how 'bout now, the answer may well be how 'bout any time.
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