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Interviews

David Weiss: Writin', Arrangin' and Playin'

By Published: December 22, 2008
As usual, the writing on The Turning Gate is strong throughout. The rhythm section maintains a looseness, but arrangements carries the day. When the players step up to solo, they are fiery when the piece calls for it, or haunting and moody if that's the bent of the composition. It all comes together. Xavier Davis's compositions sparkle on the disk, as he contributes "New," a vehicle for Steve Davis' rich tone on trombone; the swinging "David and Goliath," and the extended "The Faith Suite," made up of four parts.

"Xavier's suite, that was a grant suite from Chamber Music America. That music got him another grant. So he's got another suite of that length that we haven't recorded yet," says Weiss.

"Part of getting a band recorded right is the ninth member, the recording engineer and the recording studio," in the case of the last two CDs it was Systems Two in Brooklyn, engineered by Joe Marciano. "The guy knows what we sound like. He knows what I'm going for. He works with me because I do a lot of the mixing myself. I know what the arrangements sound like and I know how I need to hear the five horns balanced and stuff like that. That part is still a lot of work. It's a lot of mixing work to get it to sound like that. It's not easy with that many horns... with five horns you have to be very precise about the balance of everything. It takes a while if you really care."

With Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet


On the Hubbard disk, Weiss, Burno and Steve Davis did the arrangements of titles familiar to fans like "Up Jumped Spring," and "Gibraltar." Lesser known, but strong tunes, like "Theme for Kareem," "Take It to the Ozone," and "Skydive," show not only the group's fine interplay, but excellent solos. Hubbard, once known for fast and furious trumpet work that has influenced legions of players ever since, no longer plays like he's on top of Mount Olympus. But he picks his spots with the flugelhorn and splashes in melodic runs of style and substance. Craig Handy guests on some cuts and Russell Malone plays a funky guitar line on the title cut.

"Freddie, obviously his chops are down. But he's always been a very melodic player," says Weiss. "It was good to get that group with Freddie because we'd been playing on and off for so long. That record captures the feeling of the group better than the first one (New Colors, Hip Bop, 2001)."

"Freddie's not 30 and can't blow the roof down anymore, but he was a great composer, is a great composer. This band has always been about the presentation—Freddie bringing out this band of young guys playing his great music. Freddie doesn't get that pass, unfortunately. It's kind of a sad thing. He played so well. It makes everybody else realize their own mortality. When Superman can't be Superman anymore. They're human too. Nobody wants to give Freddie a break and let him play enough with this presentation to keep his chops up where he can be consistent. He still plays well, he just doesn't play like that anymore. He doesn't have the energy for it. Nobody would.

"Nobody's played as much as he has on trumpet. Nobody's played that long, that hard, that fast, that high. It's ridiculous what he did. He can't do it anymore. But, fortunately, through our collaboration, he can present a great show. He wrote all this great material that's now flushed out in bigger arrangements. He's got a great band behind it. The bonus is, when he's on a great night he'll shock everybody. When it's not so great a night, he'll still play some nice stuff and he has a great band behind him."

He adds, "He's still legend and he's found a way to get himself out there in a significant way, I think."

Finding an Instrument

A lot of players get their reputations by first playing around the city, maybe getting a gig with an important jazz figure, then waiting for the word to get around. Not so with Weiss, a Queens native. He didn't plan it, but it turned out that writing and arranging is what mostly got his name into the important music circles.

Then again, growing up, Weiss didn't have a clue that he would end up as a musician.

"I grew up in Queens where everybody wore denim jackets or sweatshirts with Kiss and Aerosmith patches on them. I grew up listening to Kiss, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin. I was always passionate about music. It evolved. I got curious myself. The rock stuff begat more progressive rock. Gentle Giant and whatever. European rock bands that had influences beyond rock and roll. King Crimson. I actually went to art school for photography first. The European stuff got more out and out. Then I got into avant-garde jazz. Cecil Taylor got me because he played with so much intensity."

Weiss started playing piano as a youngster, but preferred sports and obeying the parental edict to practice his piano was a chore. He wanted out, and suggested drums. That didn't cut it with the folks. Electric bass was another option. The situation was eventually worked out.


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