Frank Wess (ts, fl), Joe Wilder, Thad Jones (tp), Henry Coker, Benny Powell, Urbie Green (tb), Jimmy Jones, Hank Jones (p), Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus (b), Osie Johnson, Kenny Clarke (d)
Reference: FSRCD 469
Bar code: 8427328604697
Frank Wess, a first-class multi-reedman, arranger, composer and notable soloist in Count Basies great 50s big band, is the protagonist of this special compilation of his complete 1954 sessions for Commodore, his first as a leader. Inspired by both Ben Webster and, particularly, Lester Young, he shows in these swinging New York quintet-sextet recordings his light yet full-bodied sound, backed by such exceptional jazzmen as Henry Coker, Urbie Green, Joe Wilder and Oscar Pettiford. As a bonus, Bitty Ditty and Elusive, two equally engaging tracks he recorded for Debut the same year, under the leadership of trumpeter Thad Jones, are included. Especially noteworthy on these tunesand on the session as a wholeis his great solo work on tenor saxophone.
"The Commodore record label was known for its recordings of the early period jazz pioneers up to bebop, and not necessarily the modernists. Frank Wess was one of those post-bop players, coming out of the Count Basie Orchestra, who eventually made his mark as a premier individualist tenor saxophonist and a seminal jazz flutist stepping away from the swing and big band sound. These small group sessions by Wess give proof positive that he was ready to step out as not only a leader and budding composer (he wrote six of these tracks), but to assert himself as a giant of jazz in his own right. Considering the dates of these recordings, 1954, it could easily be said he was ahead of his time. There are four quintet dates with Wess and trombonist Henry Coker -- "Wess Point" barely stating a melody prior to solos, "Some Other Spring" showcasing the sleek tenor of Wess, "Mishawaka" a Charlie Parker flavored hard swinger with the horns in unison, and modal hints rhythmically propping up Coker's singing 'bone during "Flute Song." The next four have trombonist Benny Powell in for Coker and follow slightly different textures. "Basie Ain't Here," like "West Point" is a jam with an alternate take tacked on, pianist Jimmy Jones and Wess on flute duet for the standard "You're My Thrill," while the longer "Frankosis" is a fine swing number. The band expands to a sextet for another four cuts, returning Coker for one, and Urbie Green for the other three, as well as adding trumpeter Joe Wilder throughout. These pieces are not as distinguished, though they have individual bright moments. "Pretty Eyes" features a more soulful Wess on tenor, "Wess of the Moon" has brief Latin flourishes from drummer Osie Johnson, the flute vibrato on the bop modified standard "Romance" stands out, and the sweeter side of Wess is pronounced during the slower "All My Life." In most instances Wess leads and the other horns play quiet background harmonies. Not all of this music is from Commodore, as the final two tracks are from the Thad Jones quintet recordings for the Debut label, run by Charles Mingus. Thad Jones' trumpet, Hank Jones on piano, the bass playing of Mingus, Kenny Clarke's drumming, and Wess on tenor whip through the definitive hard bop composition of Thad Jones' "Bitty Ditty," and the harder bopping, quick and lithe "Elusive." Frank Wess made many recordings later on for the Savoy label, especially with fellow Basie-ite Frank Foster, with modern big bands, as a then premier flutist (most notably the Progressive label classic Flute Juice) and with the New York Jazz Quartet as its sole lead instrument. These sessions foreshadow all of the great work Wess would do from then on, and has to be considered a classic in his solid discography."
Michael G. Nastos -All Music Guide
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