May 10, 2004
FRED HESS QUARTET
The Long And Short Of It
Celebrants and first call adherents of Colorados nascent jazz scene, erstwhile collaborators tenor saxophonist Fed Hess and trumpeter Ron Miles hadnt played together for half a decade before this understated session.
No Western chauvinists, they made the CD more than a reunion by recruiting two Easterners for the rhythm section. Even so, while the music becomes more assured as the nine tunes play out over its 57 plus minutes, the end product is a bit too laid back to make it into the first ranks.
As leader, Hess, who teaches at Metropolitan Sates College of Denver, as does Miles, must accept the brickbats as well as the bouquets. He writes attractive compositions — all here are his — but a combination of missing flintiness in the front line and the tendency towards round robin soloing robs the music of the vigor a more committed reading would give it.
For example, pieces like Happened Yesterday and MLE possess the geniality and lack the depth exceptional music making demands. On the former and elsewhere, Hess, who has played with artists as diverse as bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ginger Baker doesnt seem to break a sweat when spinning out his Stan Getzian line. Additionally, Miles, best known for a stint with guitarist Bill Frissell, may double tongue and run chromatically up the scale, but the effect is more like 1970s Freddie Hubbard than anything outside. Before the horns meld together for a delicate exit, bassist Ken Filiano has confined himself to a walking bass line and drummer Matt Wilson to a rhythmic straight line.
MLE, which too ends in sweet horn harmony, finds the drummer, whose employers have ranged from saxophonist Dewey Redman to the Herbie Nichols Project limited to brushes, while Filiano, whose longest time association as been with West Coast multi-reedist Vinny Golia, again working in a straight line. At least in the penultimate bars as the horn lines dance around one another, Miles double times and Hess produces unexpected, irregular vibrations and body tube honks.
Although it too at first appears to be another soundalike cool-bop exercise, The Last Trance is one tune that shows what could have been accomplished with a tougher leader. Working from a well modulated spiccato bass figure that leads into higher pitched grace notes from the trumpeter, the rambling tune soon meets cymbal splashes and tom tom rattles from the drummer. After Miles slurs out elongated buzzes from his valves, Hess reprises the theme smoothing it out with growling explorations and whistling honks that owe as much to John Coltrane as Getz.
Even more memorable is the slow moving and almost atonal The Clefs Go To The Big City, with its smeared reed sax arpeggio and polyphonic trumpet tones. Filiano lets out a long tone as if it was on the end of a deep sea fishing pole and Wilson bangs away happily. The bassman then drags his bow over all four strings as Miles contributes irregular ejaculations and inner bell noises. Hess builds up a single note solo and, after Wilson hits march tempo, the piece fades out in a welter of brass grace notes and comedic voices.
With Filianos contributions sometimes undermixed, even on some of his own features, this quartet session isnt as outstanding as the saxmans quartet disc from 2002 that also featured the bassist was.
The long and the short view of this CD is that committed Hess — and Miles — fans may be more impressed by this meeting between East and West. Others will know that Hess especially, is capable of much more and await that outing.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Norman Says 2. Skippin In 3. Happened Yesterday 4. MLE 5. The Clefs Go To The Big City 6. From Bottom To Top 7. The Long And Short Of It 8. Gear Tips 9. The Last Trance
Personnel: Ron Miles (trumpet); Fred Hess (tenor saxophone); Ken Filiano (bass); Matt Wilson (drums)