Saxophonist Fred Hess writes dreamy music. Not music that is otherworldly or romantic or visionary per se, but dream inducing, at its plain meaning. His compositions beg for improvisation and its players are required to open up to the possibilities.
The right mix of players is a key to making his music work. The Long And The Short Of It is his third quartet record and follows 2002's Extended Family, also on Tapestry Records. Hess’ combination of musicians makes this date spot on, as they find a comfortable groove to toss around Hess’ arrangements.
Since moving to Colorado twenty years ago, Hess and Ron Miles have been the suitable one-two, saxophone/trumpet combination. Besides recording on each other’s sessions they have combined forces for Ginger Baker’s band and the Boulder Creative Music Ensemble. Their seemingly unassuming style plays as if they are twins, separated at birth.
But this recording is really more about the rhythm section of Ken Filiano and Matt Wilson. Filiano is an in demand bassist heard on many Nine Winds recordings, and last year he released his first solo session, Subvenire . Matt Wilson, a mainstay of the Either/Orchestra in the early 1990s, has become a critically acclaimed leader recording five discs for the Palmetto label.
The disc opens with, closes with, and features throughout the bass of Filiano. His strum, pluck and bow approach is more like that of a vocalist than a mere timekeeper. This deftly engineered disc presents his sound in a very woody three dimensions. “From Bottom To Top” finds Hess and Wilson following Filiano’s lead, and mimicking his voice, Hess squeezing the top of his horn and dredging the bottom.
Drummer Matt Wilson is also a perfect match. He is a younger American version of Han Bennink, a true jazz drummer who loves to bash, thwack, and whack or simply play quiet-like rhythms. He picks up an electric drill on “Gear Tips,” a sort of Raymond Scott-on-LSD tune with Ron Miles playing the muted underwater trumpet. Wilson’s stock in trade is never covering the same ground twice. He speeds and slows “The Long And Short Of It,” surging and retreating the Ornette figures with a different approach each time around.
Hess and Miles switch off the front line throughout the blues “happened Yesterday” and “MLE.” Both players handle difficult passages with such nonchalant ease. The more you listen to Fred Hess’ playing, the more you'll probably compare him to the late Joe Henderson. Both are superb composers with a gentle style that fools you into believing what they do is without effort.
But then getting lost inside a stellar recording like this makes dreaming effortless.