Fred Hess

Right at Home

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Saxophone/piano duets can be risky business. Because drums and bass are omitted, the musicians are more vulnerable and exposed; weaknesses and imperfections become more noticeable. But on the other hand, the sax/piano format can be rewarding if the players know what they're doing and have a strong rapport -- and that format works well on Right at Home, which finds tenor man Fred Hess teaming up with acoustic pianist Marc Sabatella. No drums or bass are employed on this CD -- just Hess' tenor and Sabatella's piano, and that proves to be a good thing because the jazzmen are very much in sync. The two of them enjoy a satisfying post-bop dialogue throughout the album, which was recorded in 2002 and is devoted to Hess' own compositions. No one will accuse Right at Home of going out of its way to be accessible; as a composer and a soloist, Hess tends to favor an angular, cerebral, mildly avant-garde style of post-bop. Right at Home has an inside/outside outlook; the CD isn't as far to the left as a typical Anthony Braxton date, but Hess' pieces do draw on the more abstract writing of improvisers like Steve Lacy and Joe Lovano. And Sabatella is a perfect partner for Hess because he's such a broad-minded player. Sabatella has been influenced by a wide variety of pianists -- everyone from Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck to Cecil Taylor and Thelonious Monk -- and he can handle a wide variety of situations. So whatever Hess sends Sabatella's way, he knows how to respond and rises to the occasion. Albums as intellectual as Right at Home aren't for everyone, but those who have a taste for abstraction will find a lot to like about these Hess/Sabatella duets.

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