Most of you wouldn't pick Boulder, Colorado as a hotbed of progressive jazz activity; or think that the Metropolitan State College in Denver would be a breeding ground for innovative sounds. But last year trumpeter Ron Mileswho teaches at Metropolitan Stateput out the gorgeously understated Heaven,
a duo outing with high-profile guitarist Bill Frisella set that showed up (very deservedly) on several critics' top ten lists for the year.
This year the Rocky Mountain State brings us tenor saxophonist Fred Hess, a longtime friend and musical cohort of Miles. He's offering up two CDs, simultaneously released (shades of Henry Threadgill): Right at Home, a duo outing with pianist Marc Sabatella; and Extended Family, a tenor and trumpet, bass and drums set.
An initial listen to the opener, "Good Question", evokes Ornette Coleman's early Atlantic recordings, especially the classic The Shape of Jazz to Come ; though the blowing styles of tenor man Hess and trumpeter Paul Smoker are very different than the Ornette/ Don Cherry sound. Hess's tone is warm and open, Lester Youngish, or sometimes Joe Lovano-like (though it may be a compositional similarity I'm hearing). And Smoker is more open than Cherry (ususally)and sometimes even brings in the plunger mute to sound Cotton Club Ellingtonian. Lose blowing through some intricate and interesting compositions, lots of room for improvisation, inspired improvisors.
For fans of the quartet sans chording instrument genre, this CD is (like Ron Miles' outing) heaven. A lot of groups out there are mining this ground, but none I've come across are doing it quite so well. Extended Family is flawlessly executedseamless, quirky, angular, sometimes whimsical stuff ("Mr. and Mrs. Clef Take a Vacation", a sonic story that involves alien abduction) featuring players with a depth of musical knowledge and serious chops. That I hadn't heard of Hess and company before has to be chalked up to negligence on my part. Perhaps the saxophonist's highest profile work has been with ex-Cream drummer Ginger Baker; and he has also worked with Charlie Haden, Ray Brown, Wynton M, Wadada Leo Smith and more, and he has also received The Julius Hemphill Award for Jazz Composition.
And throw in Ken Filiano's bow work on the bass as a huge plus in dark shading and texturization.
An unexpected and out-of-the-blue-gem. This is what we jazz fans live for.
Tapestry, P.O. Box 892, Bailey, CO, 80421-0892
Personnel: Fred Hess, tenor sax; Paul Smoker, trumpet; Ken Filiano, bass; Damon