If you’re into all things jazz, you might have read the recent announcement about the winners of this year’s Jazz Journalists Association awards, and you might even have noticed that the title of Flutist of the Year was given to Frank Wess. It’s just the latest of the many honors the talented instrumentalist has received throughout his long career. Equally adept on the saxophone, Wess came to prominence during his service with Count Basie in the Fifties, and for decades has been one of the most respected musicians around.
In a nice bit of timing, Wess has also generated a new album — Once Is Not Enough — and it’s now out on the Labeth Music label. It’s a follow-up (of sorts) to his recent duo with Hank Jones, Hank and Frank II, and features the veteran jazzman leading a nine-piece group — something a little different for him. His usual experience has been in small groups or full bands, but by putting together a nonet he’s giving himself the flexibility to handle just about anything.
Among the members of the group are some impressive musicians, including trumpeter Frank Greene, reedmen Ted Nash and Scott Robinson, and trombonist Steve Turre. A couple of guest stars — pianist Michael Weiss and bassist Rufus Reid — also make occasional appearances, giving Wess even more options to use, and he’s very creative in utilizing variously-sized combos for each track.
In addition to his playing talents, Wess is also a much-respected composer and arranger, and a half-dozen of the nine tracks here are his own compositions. The best among those are the title tune, which gives Robinson some space to show off his baritone sax play, and the gorgeous “Dementia, My Darling.” It’s a lush ballad dedicated to Wess’ granddaughter, and features some outstanding tenor play from grandpa. It was probably my favorite here.
Wess shows his flute at its best on a couple of the three standards on the album. Specifically, I enjoyed “Sweet And Lovely,” a Lemre/Tobias/Arnheim piece that’s always enjoyable, and the old chestnut, “Fly Me To The Moon.” The latter also gives us the opportunity to again hear Robinson’s baritone, but is mostly a showcase for the leader’s flute.