Magic 201, Frank Wess’s sequel to last year’s successful Magic 101, is due for release on February 11, 2014. The saxophonist leads a talented quintet that features pianist Kenny Barron and drummer Winard Harper from the previous album, and has added Rufus Reid on bass and Russell Malone on guitar. They got together on what has become a conventional recipe for a typical jazz set: a standard or two from the Great American Songbook, a couple of pieces with a jazz pedigree, and some original work from either the leader or members of the ensemble. When done right, it is a recipe that produces an excellent meal; Wess and his quintet do it right.
Take for example his cover of the Gershwins’ “Embraceable You.” It would be easy to forgive a critic for asking who on earth needs another recording of that venerable decaying antique. But listen to Wess’s duet with Barron, and the answer is clear. We do. With a version as fine as this, unequivocally, we do. The same can be said for the swinging set opener, “It Could Happen to You,” where each member of the ensemble gets a chance to show his stuff.
“Blues for Ruby,” a Wess original, offers an almost complete change of mood, and has Malone working it out and Wess wailing on the tenor. “If You Can’t Call, Don’t Come,” a bluesy ballad, is the other Wess original.
Sir Roland Hanna’s haunting ballad “After Paris” takes the jazz master slot. Written for Coleman Hawkins, but never recorded by the sax great, the tune is fertile ground for Wess, Malone, and Barron.
Wess picks up his flute for a solo trip through Bergman (Marilyn and Alan) and Michael Legrand’s “The Summer Knows,” certainly one of the album’s highlights, and the set ends with another swinger: “If It’s the Last Thing I Do.”
Magic 101 was one fine piece of work; Magic 201 is a worthy successor.