Revered saxophonist, flutist and composer Frank Wess is a longtime member of the Count Basie Orchestra, yet leads a nonet for the first time in his storied jazz career. Here, he imparts a largely, medium-tempo swing groove, featuring six original compositions and three standards. Nonetheless, the artist employs superior musicians, for this studio date, recorded in New York City.
Wess’ full-bodied tenor sax tone spawns a commanding presence. He makes his horn sing throughout these radiant and cheery works, abetted by layered horns and the frontline’s mood-evoking solo jaunts. The preponderance of these works are designed with zippy arrangements amid brisk soloing breakouts by Wess, trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Gerald Clayton and others. And while no one charts new ground, the program projects a classic swing vibe that is fitted with a modernist-type viewpoint.
Wess executes a deep ballad, flourishing with soul-drenched sentiment on his comp titled "Dementia, My Darling." And his flute work during "Sweet And Lovely," offers a counterpoint to the hornists’ buoyantly enacted question and answer style responses. Wess picks up the tempo on his piece "Backfire," then he lowers the heat during his solitary reading of Billy Strayhorn’s "Lush Life," where the nonet is pared down to piano trio support. Otherwise, he picks up the flute again with his blithe and relatively brief rendition of "Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)."
In sum, Wess has produced an engaging endeavor, sprinkled with a sense of optimism via solid compositions and passionate spins on time-honored standards. It’s a persuasive swing exposition, that decrees the essence of Wess’ musical mark of authenticity. - Glenn Astarita