Saxophonist/Composer Fred Hess Releases New Big Band CD as a Leader: “Hold On” (Dazzle Records 202), on August 17


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Big Band features Ron Miles, John Gunther, Marc Sabatella, Ken Filiano, and Matt Wilson

When you take this disc for a spin, you just might want to Hold On tight during its exciting 78-minute ride through the modern, big-band tradition. As a leader, tenor saxophonist/composer Fred Hess is best known for his smaller-ensemble CDs. But the Pennsylvania native, who grew in New Jersey and lives in Colorado, has long had an interest in the big-band sound going back to the 1950s. In fact, in the early 1990s, Hess, who holds a doctorate in music composition and teaches at Metro State College in Denver, was the force behind the Creative Music Works Orchestra in the Mile High City.

The core of Hess’ big band consists of the potent quartet he launched in 2003 that has Ron Miles on trumpet, Matt Wilson on drums and Ken Filiano on drums. But as drummer Wilson notes with a smile, none of the 16 musicians in this band conducted by Tyler Gilmore were “afraid to jump in the pool.” And what a pool it is with six Hess originals complemented by five arrangements by Hess of compositions from folk such as Gabriel Faure, Anthony Braxton and Gary McFarland.

As a composer, Hess has received considerable recognition over the years, receiving the Julius Hemphill Award from the Jazz Composers Alliance in 2000, as well as capturing the top prize at the 2006 International Jazz Composers Symposium. On the playing side, Hess, the founder of the Boulder Creative Music Ensemble, has worked and recorded with trumpeter Miles and with drummer Ginger Baker’s jazz group. As a leader, he has issued 14 recordings but Hold On, on Dazzle Records, is his first real venture into the realm of big-band music.

The success of that venture is clear as soon as a lone trombone states the theme of the opening track “Good Question.” On the 10 tracks that follow, Hess’ move into the big- band arena never falters – and never fails to swing. Of course, the composer/saxophonist’s goal is not to recreate sounds from the past. Instead, he continually adds new twists to even the most familiar paths. You can clearly hear that on the two tracks that combine melodies “Sicilienne/Greensleeves” and “Pretty Little Gypsy/Chuggin”, as well as on the sheer intensity of “Opposites Attract.”

By the time you the CD winds down with a humorous return to Hess’ favorite musical family on “The Clefs Visit Grandma’s” and the provocative “Knitwit for Tara,” you know that there’s no question about his talent for writing intricate and intelligent music that still swings – and his fluency on the tenor saxophone. This is big-band history with the kind of original edge that captures the head along with the heart.


John Gunther Alto Saxophone
Johan Eriksson Alto Saxophone
Fred Hess Tenor Saxophone, Leader/Composer
Dominic Lalli Tenor Saxophone
Mark Harris Baritone Saxophone

Brad Goode Trumpet
Dave Rajewski Trumpet
Al Hood Trumpet
Ron Miles Trumpet

Tom Ball Trombone
Nelson Hinds Trombone
Hoyt Andres Trombone
Gary Mayne Bass Trombone

Marc Sabetella Piano
Ken Filiano Bass
Matt Wilson Drums

Tyler Gilmore Conductor

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