Thursday, April 17, 2014

Frank Wess: Magic 201

IPO Recordings
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Magic 201

I reviewed a wonderful IPO album a few months back: Frank Wess’ Magic 101. I stated that it was the best jazz record I’d heard that year. Well, thanks to splendid foresight, Magic 201 was recorded during that same session ... and it’s every bit as sensational as its predecessor. 

The cast of artists has changed slightly, but the result still is some of the best music you’ve ever heard. Wess plays both tenor sax and flute; Kenny Barron returns on piano, and Winard Harper repeats on drums. They’re joined by bassist Rufus Reid and guitarist Russell Malone. Once again, the selected menu includes some wonderful standards (“It Could Happen to You,” “After Paris” and others), and a couple of Wess originals (“Blues for Ruby” and “If You Can’t Call, Don’t Come”). It’s all danceable; two of the charts are mid-tempo, while the rest are ballads.

Wess demonstrates his chops as a flautist on Bergman and Legrand’s “The Summer Knows”; he uses his tenor sax on the rest of the tunes. In all cases, his gorgeous tone and marvelous timing are to die for. As for his forays into the blues, nothing could groove more intently. Barron’s piano is superior, as always; Reid’s bass is solid; and Harper’s drumming is just wonderful ... swinging, but never getting in the way of the other artists. 

The addition of Malone on guitar is brilliant; this “relative youngster” fits into the group splendidly, and more than holds his own during the solo passages.

Let’s hope IPO has additional Magic chapters to lay on us, in the near future.

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