23

Frank Wess: Magic 201

Karl Ackermann By

Sign in to view read count
Frank Wess: Magic 201 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.

Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: IPO Recordings | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


Shop

More Articles

Read Disappeared Behind the Sun CD/LP/Track Review Disappeared Behind the Sun
by Karl Ackermann
Published: March 29, 2017
Read Innate CD/LP/Track Review Innate
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: March 29, 2017
Read The Seasons CD/LP/Track Review The Seasons
by Edward Blanco
Published: March 29, 2017
Read Planets + Persona CD/LP/Track Review Planets + Persona
by Glenn Astarita
Published: March 29, 2017
Read avantNOIR CD/LP/Track Review avantNOIR
by Nicola Negri
Published: March 29, 2017
Read Peace and Love: A Tribute to Will Connell CD/LP/Track Review Peace and Love: A Tribute to Will Connell
by Troy Dostert
Published: March 28, 2017
Read "The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 1" CD/LP/Track Review The Art of the Improv Trio Volume 1
by Glenn Astarita
Published: November 30, 2016
Read "Madjafalao" CD/LP/Track Review Madjafalao
by Karl Ackermann
Published: January 19, 2017
Read "Behind the Vibration" CD/LP/Track Review Behind the Vibration
by Mark F. Turner
Published: May 29, 2016
Read "Sanctuary" CD/LP/Track Review Sanctuary
by Budd Kopman
Published: November 16, 2016
Read "So Beautiful, It Starts To Rain" CD/LP/Track Review So Beautiful, It Starts To Rain
by John Sharpe
Published: December 11, 2016
Read "Desire & Freedom" CD/LP/Track Review Desire & Freedom
by John Sharpe
Published: January 25, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!