Personnel: Frank Wess- tenor saxophone, alto flute, flute; Oliver Nelson- tenor saxophone; Albert Aarons- trumpet; George Barrow- baritone saxophone; Tommy Flanagan- piano; George Duvivier- bass; Ossie Johnson- drums; Ray Barretto- conga drums; Thad Jones- trumpet; Gildo Mahones- piano; Buddy Calett- bass; Roy Haynes- drums.
Frank Wess was a busy man in the 1960s. Along with juggling roles as Count Basie’s chief tenor and sessions as a sideman he was also fortunate enough to secure plentiful dates as a leader. In each setting his tenor was allowed room to move, but it was on his own gigs where his powers were put to most expansive use. The two albums combined on this disc highlight two Wess-fronted ensembles: a large eight-piece unit colored with a Latin hue compliments of Barretto’s congas, Johnson’s drums and an acknowledged timbales player, and forward-thinking swing quintet populated by a few of his peers with the Basie Band.
On the first album Oliver Nelson’s authoritative tenor joins Wess along with the lesser known Aarons and Barrow in the front line. The horns are afforded the majority of solo space, and while they share the same instrument Nelson’s coarser toned reed is easily distinguishable from the leader’s more sophisticated sound. Nelson also handles the arrangements and his charts allow an unusual amount of space for the augmented rhythm section. Even the old pop standard “Blue Skies” is saturated with some spicy percussion breaks. Conversely “Summer Frost” flirts with sentimental exotica and never seems to rise beyond a feathery bathos, but the band rekindles a forward momentum on a zesty reading of “Dancing In the Dark.”
Date number two settles into a blues-tinged bag and gives Wess added space for his well-lauded flute. He favors the instrument on the final five tracks making for an interesting match with Jones muted brass on pieces like “Little Me.” Haynes works his usual rhythmic magic behind his kit while Mahones and Catlett keep things cantering from their respective corners. Haynes commands attention on “Yo-Ho” turning in some fantastic breaks between Jones muted choruses while Mahones is at the lyrical center of “Poor You.” Overall these are an enjoyable pair of outings from a player who cut many respectable, if not instantly classic sessions during the 60s. The fact that Wess recorded so frequently and came away with a catalog that still withstands the test of time is testament both to his talent and his desire to spread his music to as many ears as possible. Listeners with tastes favoring successful marriages of bop and swing will uncover much to their liking on this generously packed collection.
Frank Wess is still best known for his years with Count Basie in the 1950s and '60s, but his fluent tenor saxophone solos and imaginative flute playing are just as convincing on his own recordings with smaller groups. He's heard here on two contrasting sessions from the early 1960s. The first, originally issued as Southern Comfort, has Wess in an octet with spare but punching arrangements provided by fellow tenorist Oliver Nelson. It's a relaxed, mainstream-modern set with Wess's tenor spinning out the smoothly liquid lines of the Lester Young school and peppering them with some gritty blues inflections when the spirit calls. Ray Barretto's congas often add a Latin element to the rhythm section, and there are plenty of solo spots for pianist Tommy Flanagan and the under-recognized Basie trumpeter Al Aarons. The second session has Wess leading a quintet and sharing the frontline with another leading Basie man, Thad Jones. Wess emphasizes his flute in the smaller group, demonstrating his critical role in making it an effective jazz instrument. Pairing it with Jones's muted trumpet on "Little Me," "Yo-Ho," and "Poor You," Wess and the group create a distinctively light texture, while still swinging vigorously.
Born: January 4, 1922
Frank Wess (born January 4, 1922 in Kansas City) is an American jazz musician, who has played saxophone (both alto and tenor) and flute.
He began with classical music and played in Oklahoma. He later switched to jazz on moving to Washington, D. C. and by nineteen was working in the Big Bands. His career would be interrupted during World War II although he did play with a military band in the period. On returning from service he joined Billy Eckstine's orchestra.
He returned to DC a few years after this and received a degree in flute at the city's Modern School Of Music. From 1953 he joined Count Basie's band, playing flute and tenor sax. He reverted to alto sax in the late '50s, and left Basie's band in 1964. From 1959 to 1964 he won Down Beat's critic poll for flute. Since then he has done a variety of TV shows and telethons. He was a member of Clark Terry's big band from 1967 into the '70s and played in the New York Quartet (with Roland Hanna). In the '80s and '90s, he worked with Kenny Barron, Rufus Reid, Buck Clayton, Benny Carter, Billy Taylor, Harry Edison, Mel Tormé, Ernestine Anderson, Louie Bellson, John Pizzarelli, Howard Alden, Dick Hyman, Byron Stripling, Jane Jarvis, Frank Vignola and was a featured member of the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra.
In 2007 Wess was named an NEA Jazz Master by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts.
Also see: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=17076