All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review


Frank Wess: Magic 201

Karl Ackermann By

Sign in to view read count
Despite a career that spanned more than half of a century, Frank Wess was not a household name. The flautist/saxophonist spent the 1950s and 60s playing with some of the best known big bands in the U.S. including those of Billy Eckstine, Count Basie and Clark Terry. During that period he was primarily recognized as a flute virtuoso though he played both alto and tenor saxophone at that time as well. Wess shifted his attention more toward the saxophone later in his career and worked with the likes of Benny Carter, Hank Jones, John Pizzarelli and Toshiko Akiyoshi among others. Pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Rufus Reid were among those later stage contemporaries and they return for Magic 201, Wess's final studio album.

Like its prequel—Magic 101 (IPO Recordings, 2013)—this is a laid back event where the swing is moderate and the ballads are serene. Wess contributes two original pieces to a set that includes covers dating back to the 1920's. Wess has wisely chosen a diverse and sophisticated mix that is, in part, distant from the usual rotation of standards. The opener, Jimmy Van Heusen's "It Could Happen to You," provides Barron, Reid and guitarist Russell Malone ample time for solos. The moderate swing tempo is as throttled as the pace gets which is fine as it serves more to introduce the quintet than to telegraph the tone going forward. Drummer Winard Harper, the kid in the group, relatively speaking, brings his own straight-ahead experience from time served with Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin. His contribution on Magic 201 is subtle and nuanced but guides the direction of the pieces almost imperceptibly.

Though he predominantly focuses on the tenor sax on Magic 201, Wess reads Michel Legrand's, "The Summer Knows" as a flute solo. Not only is it a stunning version of the piece but it serves to demonstrate that Wess—as he approached 90 years of age—had lost none of his technical or harmonic skills. Departing from that point the quintet travels back some fifty years for George Gershwin's "Embraceable You." Like many of the older standards in the program, the treatments are less nostalgic than deferential and imbued with Wess's temperate improvisational style.

Wess— as a leader—was not as prolific as he may have been with roughly a dozen such recordings in sixty working years and hundreds of recorded sessions. But his work in general had garnered him numerous and prestigious awards and recognition within the arts community and he was much in demand throughout his long career. Though his style was reflective, his tone on tenor was fat and substantial. A master of the ballad, Wess played with passion and warmth. His soulful, bluesy sound and his emotional phrasing of melodies adding an appealing element to all his work. Wess closes out his stellar career with a superior album in Magic 201.

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: 2014 | Record Label: IPO Recordings


comments powered by Disqus

CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles
Magic 201

Magic 201

IPO Recordings

Magic 101

Magic 101

IPO Recordings

Magic 201

Magic 201

IPO Recordings

Once Is Not Enough

Once Is Not Enough

Labeth Music


Related Articles

Read Peaks of Light CD/LP/Track Review
Peaks of Light
by Mark Sullivan
Published: March 18, 2018
Read In Denmark I Was Born CD/LP/Track Review
In Denmark I Was Born
by Gareth Thompson
Published: March 18, 2018
Read In Copenhagen - Live at Jazzhus Slukefter 1983 CD/LP/Track Review
In Copenhagen - Live at Jazzhus Slukefter 1983
by Chris Mosey
Published: March 18, 2018
Read A Year Ago Today CD/LP/Track Review
A Year Ago Today
by Doug Collette
Published: March 18, 2018
Read Dreams of Belonging CD/LP/Track Review
Dreams of Belonging
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 18, 2018
Read Ravensburg CD/LP/Track Review
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: March 17, 2018
Read "Introducing...Rubén González" CD/LP/Track Review Introducing...Rubén González
by James Nadal
Published: June 16, 2017
Read "Instinct" CD/LP/Track Review Instinct
by Roger Farbey
Published: August 12, 2017
Read "Solo Contra" CD/LP/Track Review Solo Contra
by Daniel Barbiero
Published: February 24, 2018
Read "Truth, Liberty & Soul Live in New York: The Complete NPR Jazz Alive! Recording" CD/LP/Track Review Truth, Liberty & Soul Live in New York: The Complete...
by John Kelman
Published: May 20, 2017
Read "The Attic" CD/LP/Track Review The Attic
by John Sharpe
Published: July 24, 2017
Read "Ha Noi Duo" CD/LP/Track Review Ha Noi Duo
by Ian Patterson
Published: March 27, 2017