Thursday, June 20, 2013

Frank Wess, Magic 101

Could it really have been 55 years ago or so that I first heard Frank Wess (without knowing) on a Count Basie Roulette 78 rpm record I bought for nine cents at the Butler 5 & 10? I was four or five. It was my first jazz record. And it makes sense given all that, that he should be 91 years old this year! 91! He was only 36 then!

The good news is that both he and I are still alive. The Butler 5 & 10 is gone. Count Basie is gone. But Frank Wess is very much NOT gone and I have the pleasure to write about his new album, recorded several years ago when he was a sprightly 89. Aptly titled Magic 101 (IPO C1023), it is indeed magic. Frank joins with the still wonderful sounding Kenny Barron on piano in duet and quartet performances with Kenny Davis (bass) and Winard Harper (drums).

It's music that speaks directly to your soul. Standards, jazz classics and a Frank Wess penned "Pretty Lady" grace your ears for nearly an hour of the beautiful, classic art of improvisation.

Frank comes through with incredible presence. The sound is still there, in that uncanny combination of swing and bop tenorism that was always his. It's burnished and completely essentialist playing, with nothing extraneous, nothing extra, nothing unneeded. And there is total command--not a hint of faltering that you can get with players of venerable years.

This is mostly the art of the ballad. And Frank is the master. The master is alive and very much well, 55 years after my first encounter. Thank you Frank!!

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