Magic 101

Magic 101 is indeed magical. At 91 years of age, seasoned tenor-sax man Frank Wess serves up a seven-song CD that lovers of the soulful woodwind instrument are certain to appreciate. There is nothing about Wess’ rock-solid playing on this album that indicates anything but supreme instrumental competence and a long-steeped, down-to-the-bone familiarity with the grooviness that is old-school jazz. Add the musical support of influential, inimitable pianist Kenny Barron, as well as Kenny Davis on upright bass and drummer Winard Harper, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a must-have CD. Magic 101 kicks off with a playful version of Irving Berlin’s “Say It Isn’t So,” followed by a gorgeous, contemplative take on the standard “The Very Thought of You”; Barron’s solo on the latter is pure, laid-back loveliness. The third track is another slow, beautiful jazz ballad: “Pretty Lady,” a Wess original. Wess’ delivery on the 1937 Ralph Rainger/Leo Robin standard “Easy Living” calmly and movingly digs into the very essence of that beautiful song, and he gets down admirably on “Blue Monk.” Though he is pictured on the inside of the album cover wielding a flute (the other instrument he is known for), Wess does not play it here (maybe on Magic 102?).