In the musical numbers game, trios and quartets are a dime a dozen, with occasional duos and quintets. Anything larger than the latter is usually presented as a group, big band or orchestra, if anything at all, with Frank Wess Nonet defying that model.
Wess is an NEA American Jazz Master, and a veteran of the Count Basie Orchestra. For Once Is Not Enough, Wess leads an ensemble of nine musicians.
The title song is a lively, swinging piece. Wess leads on tenor sax, backed by a five-piece horn section. Drummer Winard Harper plays a standard rhythm on the hi-hat, but also mixes in some adept splash-and-crash cymbal work, as well as some rim shots. Scott Robinson contributes a baritone sax solo while bassist Peter Washington comes through here and there.
"Sara's Song" presents more, with the background horns a little more involved. Harper throws in some sharp tom work during a bridge. Steve Turré performs a rumbling trombone solo during which the trio of Harper, Washington and pianist Gerald Clayton are in top form. They carry the pace, but also demonstrate some individual expression.
"Sweet and Lovely," one of three covers, features Wess on flute. The brass and woodwinds engage in a spirited call-and-response before Wess' solo, with a solid rhythm trio, while the other horns softly support in key places. After flute solos by Wess, Ted Nash and Robinson, Clayton tickles the ivories with vigor, the horns bringing a harmonious melody, followed by Wess' lead.
Wess wrote all six original songs. Each of the eleven total playersno more than nine for any songgets a moment to shine. And except for the cover of Bart Howard's "Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)," all the songs give the musicians plenty of space to stretch out, and stretch they do.
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.
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.