Frank Wess,
Magic 101
(IPO, 2013)

Here's our question for this morning: other than the fact that they are all jazz musicians, what do Count Basie, Milt Jackson, Bill Evans, Clark Terry, Billy Eckstine, Benny Carter, Kenny Barron, Buck Clayton, Billy Taylor, Mel Torme, Hank Jones and Frank Foster have in common?

The answer? They have all recorded with Frank Wess.

Over a 70-year career (Wess was born in 1922 and started playing professionally in the '40s), the saxophonist has played with almost everyone in jazz, and he still records and tours regularly. He is a legend not just for his longevity but also for his tone and agility on his instrument, which won him the nickname "Magic."

In Magic 101, he shows why he deserves the name. It's a quartet session, and a fine one. Mostly ballads and blues, the album features Wess backed up by some fine musicians -- Kenny Barron on piano, Kenny Davis on bass and Willard Harris on drums. Each musician is offered opportunities to stretch out over the course of the album, but all are aware that their major job is to serve as a launching pad for Frank Wess's explorations.

The set starts off with an uptempo blowing number, "Say It Isn't So," which gives everyone a chance to announce himself, and then settles into a program of ballads, some standards, like "The Very Thought of You" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." The guys also take on Monk's "Blue Monk" and Ellington's "All Too Soon."

Through it all, Wess's tone is wistful, dreamy, never insistent but always confident. He's been around too long and knows too much to have to force or push the music. He lets it emerge, playing to serve the song instead of his own ego. All told, listening to Magic 101 is listening to a man who knows he has nothing left to prove and wants to just play his music the way he hears it.

The way he hears it is the way you're going to want to hear it also. This album shows a master at the top of his form.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

21 September 2013

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