is The Cooker's third release in as many years, celebrating the all-star septet's fifth anniversary as a working group. More than just a collective of high-profile scene veterans (named after Freddie Hubbard
's live 1965 Blue Note recording Night of the Cookers
), the lineup's impressive credentials collectively span from the acoustic hard bop of Art Blakey
's Jazz Messengers to the electrified funk of Herbie Hancock
's Mwandishi ensembleencapsulating the entire spectrum of jazz tradition in the process. Founded by trumpet player and musical director David Weiss
, the band features the stellar frontline of trumpeter Eddie Henderson
, tenor saxophonist Billy Harper
and alto saxophonist Craig Handy
, supported by the top drawer rhythm section of pianist George Cables
, bassist Cecil McBee
and drummer Billy Hart
Continuing a pattern established on its previous efforts, Cast the First Stone
(Plus Loin Music, 2011) and Warriors
(Jazz Legacy Productions, 2010), this vibrant session consists primarily of lesser-known originals drawn from its members' respective songbooks, illuminating their gifts as notable composers as well as intrepid improvisers. Opening with the muscular "Believe, For It Is True," from Harper's The Believer
(Baystate, 1980), the ensemble quickly shifts gears from fervent swing to atmospheric, Milesian balladry on McBee's previously unrecorded "Temptation(s)." Their ability to elegantly segue between subtly divergent moods is pervasive throughout the date's nine selections, which range from the testimonial fanfare of Harper's "Quest" and the strident angularity of McBee's "Tight Squeeze" to the buoyant euphony of Hart's "Naaj" and the radiant lyricism of Cables' "But He Knows."
Revealing years of experience as both sidemen and bandleaders, The Cookers bring a sense of egoless conviction to the proceedings. Nowhere is their dedication to collaboration more explicit than the record's sole cover, a rhapsodic reading of Wayne Shorter
's incendiary Jazz Messengers classic, "Free For All." Serving as the elastic foundation for a series of stratospheric solos (with Harper's turbulent tenor tirade a highlight), the members' keen sensitivity to the tune's formal constraints balances knowing restraint with impetuous expressionism, effectively summarizing the underlying sophistication that makes The Cookers much more than just another supergroup.
Personnel: Billy Harper: tenor saxophone; Eddie Henderson: trumpet; David Weiss: trumpet; Craig Handy: alto saxophone; George Cables: piano; Cecil McBee: bass; Billy Hart: drums.