Review by Brad Walseth
On Music Speaks, guitarist Scott Hesse presents a kaleidoscope of styles that could only come from a composer with a wide range of ideas and creativity. Opener, "The Freeze Dance" offers unusual rhythms and tones that may speak from the experience Hesse has gained performing often at Chicago's South Side avant-garde Mecca, the Velvet Lounge. Here, however, the lines are jagged, but composed, with alto saxophonist Greg Ward and keyboardist Rob Clearfield playing in unison and in counterpoint to Hesse, over the pulsing rhythms of bassist Patrick Mulcahy and drummer John Smillie. The at times harsh and strange tonalities on this piece, "Continuum" and "Wired Weird," push the limits for what is considered melodic, yet on other Hesse originals, the band proves they are able to shift gears quite nicely and display their talents in a more harmonious manner.
"A Tale of Two Cities" combines some gnarly passages with a more straight ahead and/or fusion approach and in doing so is one of the most successful pieces. Clearfield, whose work as a member of Matt Ulery's Loom ensemble is also praiseworthy, here is given ample solo space on electric piano and he takes advantage. Ward of course, needs little mention, as he is one of the city's preeminent young saxophone stars, and he too shows his abilities. Hesse's solo here is a joy of straight-ahead playing.
The surprises continue, as cellist Katinka Kleijn adds a lovely touch to the classically-minded "Rasayon." Here Hesse shows off a beautiful technique on the nylong string acoustic guitar. Mulcahy is tasteful in support and Clearfield's organ shimmers. "Unsui" is a delightful little waltz, with Hesse and crew pleasing the ear again. "Araharta" is another successful piece that sounds like Wayne Shorter if he would have had a guitarist in his front line. "Life and Breath" is another nice quiet piece with nice interplay from all involved and some interesting changes, while the album ends with "Where Words Fail," featuring Hesse on acoustic guitar and vocalist Leslie Beukelman on soaring, yet strangely melancholy, wordless vocals. An interesting blend of musical styles. Hesse's sometimes challenging, but always interesting music does indeed speak and listeners would do well to listen.