Digital’s

Wess Set Goes Long

06 JAN 10 CHRIS SLAWECKI

Frank WessThe Long Road makes full use of the extended CD playing time by combining two different titles with very different sounds that were first released as standalone albums: Southern Comfort from 1962 and Yo Ho! Poor You, Little Me, which came out the following year, both featuring Wess’ tastiest tenor sax and flute.

Southern Comfort, an octet session arranged by Oliver Nelson and fueled by conguero Ray Barretto, pours out first. Barretto works feverishly in and around pianist Tommy Flanagan, especially during the break in the opening, title cut, in Wess’ “Gin’s Beguine,” and their tandem dance with Wess’ flute to introduce the leader’s delicate “Summer Frost.” Nelson, Wess and company also make Irving Berlin’s perfect “Blue Skies” sound just heavenly.

Yo Ho! presents a smaller ensemble (quintet) and more intimate sound that spotlights impeccably stylish drummer Roy Haynes and trumpeter Thad Jones (like Wess, a Basie band stalwart). Wess’s tenor howls as Jones’ “The Lizard” digs into much deeper and funkier ground, and his flute chases Jones’ trumpet through “Little Me” and “Yo Ho,” where he proves that he stands elite among the small class of great jazz flautists.

Wess brings this set home with his winding suite “The Long Road,” a steadily swinging, mid-tempo Basie-like bounce that his tenor, Jones’ trumpet, and Haynes’ dynamic accents navigate sharp and quick. You’ll find it worth the journey, too.

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