In the Grotto
A major strength of the sound is the arranging-voices slipping in and out, brief unison sections loosening into overlapping conversations built around spirited soloing. And nobody solos like Hess-each turn he takes glows and flashes like a dark-hued, asymmetrically-cut diamond. Indeed, nobody makes music like Fred Hess. He has developed a truly original sound. Dan McClenaghan-allaboutjazz.com Hess is a compelling stylist; his breathy old school tone softens his modernist angular phrasing. Miles lends a mellifluously abstract edge to the quintet; his solos on the title track and "Ninth House" are expressively fragile in their thematically rigorous beauty. Newcomer Gunther plays with brio and verve, dueling with Hess on a number of invigorating encounters. His acerbic alto solos on "Simple Steps" and "Alison's Dream" are electrifying jolts on a record filled with highlights. Efficiently blending classic hard bop swing and Third Stream ambience with fiery improvisation and experimental structures, In The Grotto is Hess' most expansive statement to date. Troy Collins-allaboutjazz.com Born in Abington, Pennsylvania, Hess grew up in New Jersey, attending Trenton State College, before moving to Colorado in 1981. He graduated with a doctorate in music composition from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1991. His early experiences include studies with saxophonist Phil Woods, a stint with bandleader Fred Waring, and composing music for the world premiere of a Sam Shepard play. As a composer, his influences encompass the contributions of the great figures in jazz history, avant-garde classical sources, as well as Anthony Braxton and the members of the AACM. He is currently Director of Composition at The Metropolitan State College of Denver. Committed to exploring the boundaries of notated and improvised music, Fred Hess attended the Creative Music Studio, Woodstock, NY (1979), founded the Boulder Creative Music Ensemble (1982), Denver's Creative Music Works Orchestra (1993), and was a member of drummer Ginger Baker's DJQ. Recording twelve CDs under his own name, Hess received Colorado's Composition Fellowship (1986/1994), won Denver's inaugural Hennessey Jazz Search (1991), the Jazz Composers Alliance, Julius Hemphill Award (2000), and first prize at the First International Jazz Composers Symposium (2006). Favorable articles and reviews have appeared in DownBeat, Jazziz, JazzTimes, Coda, The Wire, JazzWise, Cadence, and online jazz websites. IN THE GROTTO The inspiration that comes from being in the presence of great musicians gives my compositional bent many fresh ideas. Having multi-instrumentalist John Gunther aboard means the pieces can have colors as well as structures. His solos on Simple Steps and Alison's Dream are fired with passionate alto sax wails. Also, his complementary tenor style on Hold On makes the piece an interesting dialogue between friends. Bassist Ken Filiano brings his obvious love for this music to the forefront with solos that are brimming with original ideas. His interlude on Ninth House allows the spirit of Jimmy Garrison to quietly enter the room with the strumming techniques so often heard on those famous Coltrane recordings. Ron Miles velvety cornet breathes softly into the modal atmosphere of Ninth House, sounding the sweet side of his personality. The presence of the other "Miles" is felt in the muted whisperings heard on the evocative In The Grotto. Drummer Matt Wilson's ever-expanding vocabulary comes forth on every selection. He swings hard on Hold On, grooves incessantly on Simple Steps, and seems to have the perfect creative touch on all the pieces.