Recent listening, current

Saturday, December 27, 2014

198. Frank Wess / Opus in Swing (1956)

This pianoless quintet led by the flute of Frank Wess also lacks his other instrument, the alto sax. Accordingly, he's in top form whether it's pounding high notes in the blue gloom of "Southern Exposure" or adding harmonic color to the serpentine leads of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Also moonlighting from the Basie Band are Eddie Jones and Freddie Green who keep time with Kenny Clarke so tight it's telepathic. The quintet excels in the same music that Basie's bands made famous. Like Basie's, their combo has an undeniable group dynamic, but every man is heard as his own solo artist. Together, they drive the music with one mind, then shine forth as individuals during the moments when one man stands alone. It's impossible to appreciate one quality without noticing the other. Kenny Burrell is notable. Listen to "East Wind." Green trades chording for a more pianolike approach that walks, while Klook keeps time with the cymbals and Wess sketches the heavy mood with dense vibrato. When he lays out, Burrell bursts the seams with bluesy runs and relevant single note phrases that underscore the character of the melody and polish the rhythm. It's choice stuff, a potent brew of Kansas City swing that has been seasoned with the developments of postwar New York.

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