In the liner notes of Faith, Hess, who's been among the saving graces of Colorado jazz for a generation or so, makes an unexpected admission. "While we're not quite ready for a leisured retired life on the golf course," he allows, "the music does speak our age. Maybe that's what it's all about, anyhow."
This observation implies that the BCME, which began its life in the early '80s dancing along the avant-garde ledge previously trod by the likes of Roscoe Mitchell and Anthony Braxton, is now content to provide tasteful sonic wallpaper for the supper-club set. But that's hardly the case. Although the latest incarnation of the ensemble -- trumpeter Ron Miles, soprano and alto saxophonist Glenn Nitta, alto and baritone saxophonist Mark Harris, bassist Kent McLagen and drummer Tim Sullivan, with Hess on tenor sax -- doesn't use every track as an excuse for atonal experimentation, neither does it fall back on the usual cautious stereotypes. Faith is the work of mature artists, yes, but ones who continue to prod traditional jazz forms for fresh juice.
The (New) Fred Hess Quartet
t. Paul's United Methodist Church, 1615 Ogden Street
Friday, September 2
"Journey to Sentosa," the opening track (also heard in an alternate take), eases listeners into the album gently, kicking off with intermittent brass flourishes that won't frighten the Wynton crowd before trekking into moderately craggier territory. But greater challenges follow. The title track is a hushed, extremely deliberate collection of honks, squeaks and whines à la the Art Ensemble of Chicago that serves as an introduction to "See You...(Illuma Soma)," a gorgeous exploration whose ebbs and flows are as steady as the tide. Likewise, the improvisatory yet precise "Blu-Berries" leads listeners into the meticulously mathematical "Manieres Differentes," which eschews bass and drums altogether.
Despite the humor inherent in the closing portion of the medley "Why Are You Blue/Kitch," most of the music on hand is notably rigorous. (Don't try this at home, folks; these are professionals.) But if "Lou-Bop," which clocks in at nearly sixteen minutes, requires a little more active listening than, say, something by Jessica Simpson, the rumbling drama achieved by Hess, Nitta and Harris, which explodes into feverish chaos three-quarters of the way through, is ultimately a lot more rewarding (unless you're eight years old, that is). The members of the Boulder Creative Music Ensemble may not be young bomb-throwers anymore, but they sure have aged gracefully.