[JPL] Cookers add Sixties flavor to the jazz menu at Iridium

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Sat Feb 23 13:45:20 EST 2008


Cookers add Sixties flavor to the jazz menu at Iridium
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Star-Ledger Staff

NEW YORK -- A fertile, vibrant period of jazz history was explored with
panache when the Cookers opened a four-night stand Thursday at the Iridium
Jazz Club.

That period -- the early- to mid-1960s -- was a time when musicians such as
Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Freddie Hubbard moved beyond their roots
in bebop, incorporating into their already-alluring styles harmonic
advancements of people like John Coltrane and open-door abstraction of
artists such as Ornette Coleman. The result was an exciting, powerful jazz
with a melodic heart and galvanizing swing that could change direction in an
instant. It's music that sounds as fresh now as it did then.

Saxophonists Billy Harper and James Spaulding, trumpeter Eddie Henderson,
pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart are six
musicians who developed during the 1960s, and who have played with musicians
such as Hancock, Hubbard and Shorter, among many others. Their presence in
the Cookers delivers a palpable authenticity.

Various editions of the band -- led by trumpeter, composer and arranger
David Weiss, a colleague of Hubbard's -- have been performing in the U.S.,
Europe and the Middle East since about 2001. On Thursday, alto saxophonist
Antonio Hart was a last-minute sub for Spaulding, who is back tonight;
pianist Geri Allen stood in for Cables, who is recovering from liver and
kidney transplants; and drummer Gene Jackson was in for Hart, who also
returns tonight. Since these three, and Weiss, are also aesthetically rooted
in the 1960s, they added a distinctive smack to the band's punch.

The ensemble played four numbers in Thursday's opening set. Each was
arranged by Weiss, often with the composer's input as well, and each allowed
the members to solo at length. McBee set up Hubbard's "The Core" with an
unaccompanied bass solo that revealed his firm, warm sound and ability to
weave short, dramatic remarks and long gushes into an intriguing whole. He
segued into a rhythmic bass figure that anchored a charged vamp. The vamp
also included Allen and Jackson and at points led to a speedy swing section.

After the richly-textured theme, Henderson soloed, employing his glowing,
weighty sound to issue an engrossing array of ideas that bore a melodic
thrust and had a dynamic rhythm. Harper scored with his trademark sweeps of
notes, and his vocal-like, sometimes crying sound. Weiss, his tone subtle at
points, brazen at others, played solid packets of notes, most tuneful, some
more abstract. Allen dropped in anything from squibbs to garlands with a
hard swing.

McBee's "The Peacemaker," with waves of band sound in the theme, was softer
and slower. McBee again built the song's bottom end with beguiling figures
in tandem with Allen and the invigorating Jackson. Henderson, Harmon mute
installed, was alternately bold and calm, and alto saxophonist Hart scored
with a ripe sound, bluesy thoughts and abstract bursts.

Cables' "Sweet Rita Suite" boasted another stellar Henderson effort of quiet
remarks and stirring shouts, and an Allen solo that engagingly moved from
modest thoughts to commanding bursts. Harper's "Priestess" featured the
tenorist's masses of sound, and Weiss' meaty, colorful lines.

The Cookers has no recording. It deserves one.

Zan Stewart is the Star-Ledger's jazz writer. He is also a musician who
occasionally performs at local clubs. He may be reached at
zstewart at starledger.com or (973) 324-9930.

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