Friday, September 5, 2014

Time out for jazz: The Cookers fire up 'Time and Time Again'

A collectively run band of great dynamism and purpose proves that an all-acoustic small group bursting with forthright thematic statements and energetic solos isn't necessarily channeling the Golden Age of Blue Note Records. The Cookers are fully 2014 in freshness and mode of address.

A formidable septet building a 21st-century version of hard bop.
Trumpeter David Weiss, the band's chief arranger, joins spirits with saxophonist Billy Harper, the group's other major arranger, to make the best possible presentation of nine tunes by the two men and Cecil McBee, George Cables and Billy Hart.

The personnel certainly comes close to that much-abused label "all-star": There are some redoubtable senior citizens of straight-ahead jazz in this ensemble, whose other members are trumpeter Eddie Henderson and saxophonist Donald Harrison.

The blend of stateliness and fire is notable right off the bat. "Sir Galahad" launches the disc and features a typical array of solos. I say "typical" in the sense that you never get the feeling the members of the group are trying to "cut" one another.  Furthermore, they have enough personality and staying power that their solos don't run over the same ground from one solo to the next. You'll notice quite a refreshing contrast between saxophonists Harper (tenor) and Harrison (alto), for example.

Several of the tunes offer plenty of creative space for Hart, the drummer. He co-creates the vibe in such pieces as "Reneda" (which he wrote, so he's entitled) and pianist Cable's beautiful Mulgrew Miller tribute, "Farewell Mulgrew."

McBee's "Dance of the Invisible Nymph" is buoyed by one of five arrangements by Weiss, with a restless stop-start motion.  The piece benefits little by being immediately before the set-closer, however, Harper's "Dance Eternal Spirits Dance." That seems to me a similar, slightly weaker example of the ensemble's artistry, though it makes some hearty valedictory statements.

The title piece, "Time and Time Again," is a Harper original that's notable for the knitting-together strength of McBee's bass. Henderson also enjoys an exuberant solo outing.

The blues is no wallflower at the ball generated by the Cookers' catchy writing. It comes nicely to the fore in the sly, slow "Slippin' and Slidin'," with a typically outsized show of insinuating bravado from Harper.

In "Time and Time Again" (Motema)  the Cookers are a straight-shooting band that offers much clarity, energy, and some surprising subtlety throughout an appealing program.