Although Fred Hess has released a number of excellent small-ensemble recordings, the saxophonist's big-band recordings are equally captivating. As with his previous two big-band outings, Speak borrows from big bands of the past while also looking toward the future. Some of the area's finest musicians are on board here, like Ron Miles, John Gunther, Peter Sommer and Greg Garrison, but Hess also enlisted the remarkable New York-based drummer Matt Wilson and trombonist John Fedchock, who delivers a first-rate solo on the opening track, "Blues for Bonnie Belle," a cut dedicated to Hess's cat. The sixteen-piece band, conducted by Tyler Gilmore, does a remarkable job weaving through such intricate arrangements as "How 'Bout Time," which unfolds from several motivic fragments. The group borrows from Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" on the lively "Finding the Evidence," while "Psalm to Hymn" is an homage to John Coltrane, opening with a slow modal theme, then swinging something fierce. Hess and company have outdone themselves on this one.
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