By Edward Bianco
Frank Wess Nonet | Labeth Music (2009)
Known affectionately as “Magic” to his professional colleagues, saxophonist/flautist Frank Wess is a living legend in the jazz world. His résumé includes stints with Billy Eckstine, the Clark Terry Big Band and a decade performing with the Count Basie Orchestra, and he is recognized as one of the first major flautists to have an impact on the music. Once Is Not Enough is an audacious recording that follows his most recent collaboration with Hank Jones on Hank and Frank II (Lineage Records, 2009), with six original compositions and three covers tastefully arranged to feature the many soloists on his hand-picked nine-piece ensemble.Among the members of the Frank Wess Nonet are trumpeters Terell Stafford and Frank Greene, trombonist Steve Turré, altoist Ted Nash and baritone/bass saxophonist Scott Robinson, with bassist Peter Washington, pianist Gerald Clayton and drummer Winard Harper rounding out the rhythm section. Guests Michael Weiss (piano) and Rufus Reid (bass) sub for Clayton and Washington, respectively, on two tracks.
Though well established as a premier flautist, Wess has also made his mark as a Lester Young-influenced tenor saxophonist; it is as a sax man that he predominates here, though he also plays flute on selected tracks. The “magic” begins right off the bat on the opening title piece—one of four arranged by drummer Dennis Mackrel—a swinging bebop burner showcasing Wess on the lead backed up by the five-piece horn section that relinquishes the stage to Robinson’s lively baritone voice. The swinging sounds continue on “Sara’s Song,” where Turré’s trombone emerges as the first soloist, setting up strong bass work from Washington, and Harper’s rumbling pounding of the drums, all bolstered by superb background horns.
There’s more of the same on the perky “You Made A Good Move,” another Wess original where the saxophonist leads the music with a regal solo performance. All is not swing, however, as the leader provides mellow music with the light original, “Dementia, My Darling,” dedicated to his granddaughter, Nicole; Wess leaves the original ensemble format, preferring a quartet that features guests Weiss and Reid. Employing this same quartet setting, Wess delivers a second ballad with his creative arrangement of Billy Strayhorn‘s time-honored classic, “Lush Life.”
Wess takes to the flute on two of the three standards offered here (“Sweet and Lovely,” and “Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)”), demonstrating his skills on the instrument that forged the prominence he so richly deserves.
It’s easy to understand why Frank Wess would title this album Once Is Not Enough, as it clearly refers to the superlative charts and world-class cast of players that make listening to this session only once merely one fix in a lifelong addiction to such fine music.