Denver, Colorado-based tenor saxophonist/bandleader Fred Hess isn't one to sit around and wait for the muse to pay a visit. He boasts fifteen CDs as a leader, cranking one out every year now for better than a decade. His profile rose on the surge of a set of small group outings, beginning with Crossed Paths
(Tapestry, 2005), and culminatingsmall group-wisewith Single Moment
(Alison, 2008), on which he experimented by expanding, very successfully, his free jazz quartet to a sextet.
Hess made the leap to the big band arena with the outstanding Hold On
(Dazzle Records, 2009), which had much more of a traditional feeling than his small group outings would suggest. Into The Open
finds Hess pushing deeper into big band land, with a freer atmosphere than Hold On
had, with superb results.
Opening with "Sooz Blooz," one of Hess's most engaging compositionsreprised from his sextet outing How 'Bout Now
and anchored, now as then, by the versatile team of bassist Ken Filiano
and drummer Matt Wilson
the band drives hard on a circuitous journey that moves into one of the leader's characteristically searing and serpentine solos. The ensemble surges with heavy muscle, giving way to trombonist Tom Hall, who blows with a subdued elegance, leading into alto saxophonist John Gunther
's wailing, Dixieland-like interlude.
Alison's Dream" starts out with bass tromboinist Gary Mayne's leviathan groans, then swirls into a surreal world full of stop/start story linessome majestic, some bluesy and soulful, and some with an off-kilter swingput together to tell an odd and fractured tale, laid down in part by trumpeter Brad Goode
's strange and manic "vocalizations," sounding like a musical version of Uriah Heep, the oddball character of Charles Dicken's David Copperfield
The Clef Family is back. They have joined Hess on at least his last seven recordings, and things are always, with them, unpredictable. This time out it's to celebrate "Baby Clef's Birthday." There are fanfares and baby cries, chitchat, dog howlings, disarray and the dark, murky undercurrents of an extended family shindig.
But Hess an artist who continues to push the music forward saves the best for last. "Ninth House" is his sixteen-minute tour de force tribute to jazz giant John Coltrane
, combining bits and pieces of the late saxophonist's recorded legacy with the energy of Hess' magnificent powerhouse big band.