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Frank Wess: Magic 201

Dan McClenaghan By

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Saxophonist Frank Wess was born in 1922. He played in Billy Ecstine's orchestra, after World War II interrupted his burgeoning career, and he played in Count Basie's band from 1953 to 1964. With those early experiences on his resume, the fact that he was a traditionalist in the mode of saxophonists Ben Webster, of Duke Ellington Orchestra fame, and Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young should come as no surprise.

Following up his Magic 101 (IPO Recording, 2013), Wess, who passed away in October 2013, at age 91, offers, perhaps, his last recording, a posthumous upper class course in taste and refinement, and yes, magic, with Magic 201. From the same session that produced the first Magic recording, Wess adds guitarist Russell Malone to his quartet to explore of the standards, a couple of originals, one a down and dirty blues that says he wasn't all sharp-looking suit and tie, champagne and caviar.

These guys make it sound so effortless. But it's a sextet of seasoned pros, so that's how it should be. Kenny Barron, who in addition to his prodigious sideman work has enjoyed an enormous career as a leader, keeps things graceful from the piano chair, without stealing any thunder from the leader, but embellishing and accenting, and creating moments of sublime beauty inside the ensemble interplay. Guitarist Russell Malone is, as always impeccable in his contributions; and on the Frank Wess-penned "Blues for Ruby" he sounds like a guy who could have gone into the studio with Muddy Waters and laid down a deep delta blues.

This is classic jazz, offered up by a master of the genre joined by the perfect sidemen for the gig. Five of the tunes are ballads of understated yet exquisite beauty. All of them polished pieces of perfection from Frank Wess and his crew.

Track Listing: It Could Happen to You; A Cottage for Sale; After Paris; The Summer Knows; Embraceable You; Blues for Ruby; If You Can't Call, Don't Come; If It's the Last Thing I Do.

Personnel: Frank Wess: tenor saxophone, flute; Kenny Barron: piano; Russell Malone: guitar; Rufus Reid: bass; Winard Harper: drums.

Title: Magic 201 | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: IPO Recordings


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