[JPL] A Veteran Sideman Shows That He Knows How to Lead

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Oct 27 16:56:34 EDT 2006

October 26, 2006
Music Review | 'Michael Weiss'
A Veteran Sideman Shows That He Knows How to Lead 
The pianist Michael Weiss knows a lot about making
other people sound better. He has worked extensively
as a sideman over the last 25 years, supporting elders
like the tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin and the
trumpeter Art Farmer. On most Monday nights he can be
heard at the Village Vanguard, playing with the
Vanguard Jazz Orchestra; his last weeklong stint at
the club was just a few months ago, as the de facto
musical director for a quartet led by the trumpeter
Joe Wilder.

This week Mr. Weiss is making his first headlining
appearance at the Vanguard, with a five-piece band and
a book of his own music. It’s a big step forward, but,
judging by Mr. Weiss’s first set on Tuesday night, he
is more than ready. Focusing mainly on material from
his last album, “Soul Journey” (Sintra, 2003), he
demonstrated a strong sense of both leadership and

It manifested itself most clearly in the compositions.
“Orient Express,” for instance, started in a fusion
vein, with some darkly modern harmonies; then it
switched over to a sleek and swinging hard-bop mode.
Mr. Weiss’s brisk solo was punctuated intermittently
by a syncopated ensemble figure. And when it was time
for a solo turn by Steve Wilson on soprano saxophone,
the gears shifted again, into a two-chord funk vamp.
The intricacy of the arrangement recalled the
small-group writing of Horace Silver, while the song’s
tonal palette suggested the influence of Wayne

“The Prophecy” was a much simpler tune, though it
still had a noteworthy structural quirk: alternating
four-bar stretches of 4/4 swing and 12/8 Afro-Cuban
rhythm. That conceit, which extended through the
song’s improvisational sections, nudged Mr. Wilson
toward an excellent alto solo, both probing and
playful in tone. At one point he quoted a phrase from
“Fascinating Rhythm” and then conjugated it through
several different keys, in the manner of John
Coltrane’s “Acknowledgement,” from “A Love Supreme.” 

Mr. Weiss, though a confident and sometimes sparkling
presence on piano, rarely sought the spotlight. He
kept his statements concise and his volume in check;
he could have played louder and longer, but seemed
intent on keeping the focus on the band. So attention
often fell on his expert rhythm section, with Ugonna
Okegwo on bass, Daniel Sadownick on percussion and
George Fludas on drums. Each player had a moment to
shine; Mr. Sadownick made the most of his, starting a
conga solo with quietly fluttering fingers and
gradually building up to a two-handed roar.

Near the end of the set’s closer, a ruminative
original called “Atlantis” (not to be mistaken for the
Wayne Shorter tune), Mr. Weiss fashioned an
unaccompanied coda, focusing on some delicate and just
slightly dissonant chords. There was no abandon in his
playing, but there was sensitivity and logic, along
with crisp control. 

The Michael Weiss Quintet continues through Sunday at
the Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Avenue South, at
11th Street, West Village, (212) 255-4037,


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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