Denver-based tenor saxophonist and composer Fred Hess has been exploring the experimental edges of jazz since his early days at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, NY, in the late '70s; since the early '80s he has been a major player in the Denver-area jazz scene, gigging with such luminaries as Ginger Baker, Ray Brown, Wynton Marsalis, and Ron Miles. His tone is generally warm and dark, harking back to Lester Young, but he doesn't shy away from extended techniques or from unusual textures and arrangements. On Long and the Short of It, his ambivalent relationship to tradition is illustrated by the traditional tenor-and-trumpet configuration that is undermined somewhat by the lack of a piano, and by the way his compositions swing merrily along for extended periods before falling apart into pointillistic group improvisation or shards of fractured note clusters. Accompanied by trumpeter Ron Miles, bassist Ken Filiano, and drummer Matt Wilson, Hess manages to map out what sounds like genuinely new musical territory while never letting the threads of groove and harmonic coherence unravel altogether. Highlights include the sharp and angular title track and a humorous abstraction called "The Clefs Go to the Big City," which features slightly disconcerting extended blowing techniques and improvised coffeeshop chatter. Recommended.
Long and Short of It Review
by Rick Anderson