Frank Wess was a busy man in the 1960s. Along with juggling roles as Count Basie’s chief tenor and sessions as a sideman he was also fortunate enough to secure plentiful dates as a leader. In each setting his tenor was allowed room to move, but it was on his own gigs where his powers were put to most expansive use. The two albums combined on this disc highlight two Wess-fronted ensembles: a large eight-piece unit colored with a Latin hue compliments of Barretto’s congas, Johnson’s drums and an acknowledged timbales player, and forward-thinking swing quintet populated by a few of his peers with the Basie Band.
On the first album Oliver Nelson’s authoritative tenor joins Wess along with the lesser known Aarons and Barrow in the front line. The horns are afforded the majority of solo space, and while they share the same instrument Nelson’s coarser toned reed is easily distinguishable from the leader’s more sophisticated sound. Nelson also handles the arrangements and his charts allow an unusual amount of space for the augmented rhythm section. Even the old pop standard “Blue Skies” is saturated with some spicy percussion breaks. Conversely “Summer Frost” flirts with sentimental exotica and never seems to rise beyond a feathery bathos, but the band rekindles a forward momentum on a zesty reading of “Dancing In the Dark.”
Date number two settles into a blues-tinged bag and gives Wess added space for his well-lauded flute. He favors the instrument on the final five tracks making for an interesting match with Jones muted brass on pieces like “Little Me.” Haynes works his usual rhythmic magic behind his kit while Mahones and Catlett keep things cantering from their respective corners. Haynes commands attention on “Yo-Ho” turning in some fantastic breaks between Jones muted choruses while Mahones is at the lyrical center of “Poor You.” Overall these are an enjoyable pair of outings from a player who cut many respectable, if not instantly classic sessions during the 60s. The fact that Wess recorded so frequently and came away with a catalog that still withstands the test of time is testament both to his talent and his desire to spread his music to as many ears as possible. Listeners with tastes favoring successful marriages of bop and swing will uncover much to their liking on this generously packed collection.
Track Listing: Southern Comfort/ Blue Skies/ Gin
Personnel: Frank Wess- tenor saxophone, alto flute, flute; Oliver Nelson- tenor saxophone; Albert Aarons- trumpet; George Barrow- baritone saxophone; Tommy Flanagan- piano; George Duvivier- bass; Ossie Johnson- drums; Ray Barretto- conga drums; Thad Jones- trumpet; Gildo Mahones- piano; Buddy Calett- bass; Roy Haynes- drums.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.