Getting Bolder

The Boulder Creative Music Ensemble is still taking chances after all these years.

The album is full of references that walking jazz encyclopedias will appreciate but that won't present barriers to casual listeners. Take "Loose Leaves," which alludes to the many jazz covers of "Autumn Leaves," popularized in 1955 by schmaltz king Roger Williams. "If people know their jazz history, they'll laugh themselves crazy because they'll know where this stuff's coming from," Hess says. "And if you don't, it still should work." As for "After the Leap," it's shaped entirely from solos by saxophone superman Lester Young--a deconstruction/reconstruction that's as devout as anything by Wynton Marsalis even as it exhibits the healthy irreverence of John Zorn.

Similarly playful is "Close to the Beach," a classical track in the guise of a jazz number in which threads from several Ron Miles songs, including "Howard Beach," are woven together. "I had to do a big orchestra piece to finish my degree, so I wrote a trumpet concerto for him--all from his themes," Hess says. "I was playing in his group in the early Nineties, so I took the melodies that we were playing and I used them as all my material in this piece."

As Hess concedes, people who don't immediately hear the connections between the traditional and the avant-garde in his music are unlikely to investigate them--but he encourages them to try. Paraphrasing an earlier conversation with Miles, he says, "It shouldn't matter where you start, because if you have the passion, you'll want to discover what else has gone on. You will eventually fill in the blanks to make the bigger picture that you would need to function within that picture."

In other words, there's still harmonic potential to be mined from jazz, but musicians and fans alike need to search for it. And after all these years, the contributors to the Boulder Creative Music Ensemble are still digging.

Ninth Street Park CD-release party, featuring the Boulder Creative Music Ensemble. 8 p.m. Saturday, December 12, Houston Fine Arts Center, 7111 Montview Boulevard, $5-$8, 303-759-1797.

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