Known for his big-band or small ensemble recordings, Frank Wess uses a nine-piece band for the first time in his long, storied career to make easy going swinging jazz in the tradition of his former boss, Count Basie. The masterful tenor saxophonist, arranger, and most notably, composer, has assembled an impressive group, featuring trombonist Steve Turre, saxophonists Scott Robinson, and Ted Nash, trumpeters Terell Stafford and Frank Greene, and the dynamite rhythm section of drummer Winard Harper, bassist Peter Washington, and especially impressive young pianist Gerald Cannon. Together they play original music and standards with the Basie stamp firmly embossed. The tart, compact, internalized sound of Wess on the big horn is a factor in contrasting the otherwise sweet sounds. His world-class flute playing is also featured in spurts, though a "hook 'em horns" gesture on the cover photo as he holds his silver wind instrument might lead you to believe it's featured on the date -- it is not. Wess is clearly the leader and frontman, playing basic main stem melodies and solos on the title selection, "Sara's Song" and "You Made A Good Move," all relaxed swingers arranged by drummer Dennis Mackrel (who does not perform on the date) that are fairly concise, have space for another select soloist, and vary to certain degrees in either united effect, or stratifying the horns. "Backfire" is the wailer, upbeat bop at its finest, rambling a bit but focused, based on the changes of "I Got Rhythm," and featuring a surprise coda based on the title. The standards include Scott Robinson's uniquely charted intro tacked on "Fly Me to the Moon," or the flute of Wess stepping forward on a modified "Sweet & Lovely" with the horns backing him up. Pianist Cannon is one to be heard closely on this recording, as he is capable of all melodic, emotional, or rhythmic duties and responsibilities required. He's also quite original at such a young age -- perhaps the next Kenny Barron? Two tracks feature Wess in only a quartet setting with a different rhythm section including Harper, pianist Michael Weiss, andd bassist Rufus Reid, including a lengthy version of the overwrought, somber "Lush Life," just about the saddest tune ever, wrapped in thin silver tin foil, ultimately fragile, with Wess on tenor, and observant, lovelorn piano interventions. The obligatory Basie-type tune "Tryin' to Make My Blues Turn Green" ends the set in a shuffling along and out style. This is a good effort, not as great as others Wess has made over the years, but the high level musicianship is a constant reminder that he's very much in the mainstream jazz ballpark, and still has a valid perspective many years after this music was out of trendy and trumped up electronic induced vogue. If you are a fan of Frank Wess, this recording will please you to no end.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos