The Fred Hess Big Band is back. After releasing more than a dozen discs as the leader of small groups, Hess jumped into the big-band groove for the first time with his 2009 CD Hold On. That disc played to positive reviews and provided the music on the trailer for the highly- regarded Broadway play God Of Carnage." As an award-winning composer, the big-band context proved to be a natural for the talented, Denver-based tenor saxophonist who also holds a doctorate in music composition.
Now, his 16-piece big band that's conducted by Tyler Gilmore and anchored by bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Matt Wilson returns, pushing the big-band sound even further into the open spaces of the future. As was the case with Hold On, the new disc pays homage to that sound, especially on the early tracks, Sooz Blooz," the tongue-in-cheek Home Base," and Norman's Gold." Then, Hess' ability to revisit the past with a new and fresh eye keeps going on Journey to Sentosa," Ninth House" and See You" (Illuma Soma), the only non-Hess composition on the CD.
Interestingly, all of the compositions by Hess have previously been recorded by his small groups. But what a difference size makes, as on his expansive Coltrane tribute Ninth House" where Bartok-like textures are blended with Miles Davis' modal All Blues" in 6/8 and Trane's Pursuance" from A Love Supreme.
Over the years, in addition to leading his own groups, the Pennsylvania-born Hess has worked with drummer Ginger Baker and trumpeter Ron Milesand his compositions have received the Julius Hemphill Award from the Jazz Composers Alliance and the top prize from the International Jazz Composers Symposium. Hess' compositions are intricate and compelling and filled with humor (check out his adventures with the Clef family) and life. And on this disc, they provide ample room for Hess and fellow soloists such as trumpeters Brad Goode, Al Hood, Ron Miles and saxophonist John Gunther.
This is a traditional big-band ensemble that goes beyond tradition.