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Frank Wess: Once is Not Enough

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Dominated by the sound of swinging, good-time blues, Once Is Not Enough indisputably plants NEA Jazz Master Wess in the tradition of Count Basie, in whose Count Basie Wess played flute, alto, and tenor saxophones for more than a decade.

This set jumps from the very start: Wess' tenor on his opening, title track sounds neither heavy or deep, but still bounces and strolls like a sharp Saturday night player. His minor blues "Sara's Song" exemplifies the energetic ensemble blowing sessions that highlighted the swing era, especially when Steve Turre's trombone solo dusts up a ruckus. Everybody in the studio gets to tear a piece off of Wess' "You Made a Good Move," a bright starburst of six-part horn harmonies—especially pianist Gerald Clayton, whose solo bounces off the echoes of Basie's simultaneously understated yet irresistible piano boogies and blues.

"Sweet and Lovely" features three different flute soloists, as Ted Nash and Scott Robinson join Wess. A hip arrangement of "Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)" opens with just flute and bass before twirling into a finger-snapping swinger that features Wess's brightest and most articulate flute playing on the entire set, especially noteworthy since flute is one of the hardest instruments to truly swing because it's so easy to over- or under-blow it.

Not Enough is also noteworthy because it's Wess's first nonet recording in his six-decade discography. Even so, two of its highlights come from more intimate quartet performances with Michael Weiss (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), and Winard Harper (drums). Wess not only wrote "Dementia, My Darling" to honor his friend and mentor Ben Webster, his tenor playing on it sounds just like Webster's too. Weiss and Reid adorn Wess's saxophone introduction to the classic "Lush Life" with a quiet, elegant sound that proves quite refreshing among so many large-ensemble jams.

Wess and company (especially trumpet players Frank Greene and Terell Stafford) blow the whole house down with his concluding "Tryin' to Make My Blues Turn Green," a chain explosion of great horn solos that provides the curtain call for this tremendous set.

Track Listing: Once Is Not Enough; Sara's Song; You Made a Good Move; Dementia, My Darling; Sweet and Lovely; Backfire; Lush Life; Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words); Tryin' to Make My Blues Turn Green.

Personnel: Frank Wess: tenor saxophone, flute; Frank Greene: trumpet; Terell Stafford: trumpet; Steve Turre: trombone; Ted Nash: alto saxophone, flute; Scott Robinson: bass saxophone, baritone saxophone, flute; Gerald Clayton: piano; Michael Weiss: piano (4, 7); Peter Washington: bass; Rufus Reid: bass (4, 7); Winard Harper: drums.

Title: Once Is Not Enough | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Labeth Music

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