Thursday, October 20, 2016

Recipe for excitement: The Cookers play the Jazz Kitchen

What a delicious thing to contemplate and enjoy! — The Cookers at the Jazz Kitchen. I almost had the idea that maybe Jolene Ketzenberger or Liz Biro should be covering the gig. But there I was, so

Decades of experience come together around original charts, first-rate together and singly.
we'll go with a translation of the appetizing names over to the music right away here. In the first set, while a torrential thunderstorm presided outside, the septet that has energized small-group acoustic jazz anew set out a compact feast for a decent-sized crowd, considering the weather.

In his opening statement to the band's enthusiasts, spokesman and trumpeter David Weiss called it "the smallest crowd we've ever played for," which seemed an unnecessarily dour way to begin. It was like a preacher opening his sermon complaining about sparsely filled pews. What are the people in attendance supposed to think? "Are we being bawled out for those who stayed away?"

The Cookers deserve to bring in housefuls of fans, of course. Besides Weiss, there is a personnel list of head-spinning authority and experience: tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison joining Weiss in the front line, and a rhythm section consisting of veterans George Cables, piano; Cecil McBee, bass, and Billy Hart, drums.

At first, Hart's drums were too high in the mix: You rarely hear drums covering a tenor-sax solo!  The situation was brought into balance by the second number,"Beyond Forever," a piece by Cables, and it was a pleasure to re-encounter his characteristic blend of down-home feeling and lyricism  (with some fine in-the-pocket drive in Hart's playing) and also the fluidity and note-spinning agility of Harrison.

A Billy Harper composition, "Croquet Ballet," touched on the refined pulse associated with the second word in the title, and featured ensemble passages in between the solos.  The coda settled into a repeated figure for just the four horns, always precisely timed, with variations in notes dropping out without disturbing the pattern's contour. It was witty, beautifully harmonized, and a further sign of the band's excellence and internal rapport.

The set finale, Freddie Hubbard's "The Core," presented the first solo opportunity for the thick-toned but ever adroit McBee (though his role in the rhythm section was always worth noticing) as he introduced the rambunctious theme. The propulsive Hart, a relentless generator of dense textures nimbly set down, got an extensive solo into which he poured a wealth of ideas, astonishingly accented and presented with consistent focus.

The next-to-last piece, Harper's "If One Could Only See," was introduced by a limpid Cables solo.  This rendition centered on a showcase solo by Henderson, who showed off his ability to maintain a line even while he found ways to shake it up consistently to let any hint of cliche fly away.

It was typical of how these adept players approach their work. They made the boundary between tight ensemble and pungent soloing seamless. It's no wonder that there's more than all-star status to explain the Cookers' stature: They are making new music that keeps extending the legacy that can already be credited to them as individuals.

One just doesn't get the chance to hear a seven-piece touring band of major players often. The Cookers would be welcome back to Indianapolis anytime; perhaps with better weather and fewer folks settling in at home for a presidential debate, they'd pack the house.

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