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Sharp As Shark’s Teeth: The Hammerheaded Quintet

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Dan Weeks, Ph.D, wears many hats: published poet (six books), professor of philosophy, assistant research professor at Rutgers University, and drummer of no slight talent. Yet, he insists he's not the leader of the Hammerheaded Quintet. Nor is the leader guitarist Chuck Welch, saxophonist Anthony Ware, trumpeter Ted Chubb or bassman Mike Noordzy. But Weeks is the most vocal, doing all the introducing and stage announcing during their recent gig at The Saint in Asbury Park. The Saint is well known as a rock club—the unclassifiable guitarist Charlie Hunter has performed there as have many rock luminaries—but the spot does occasionally book jazz. Owner Scott Samper would like to host jazz more often, but he's discouraged by the low turnout. And so it was on this night, and what a shame.

The Hammerheaded Quintet, named after the Wayne Shorter tune "Hammer Head," with the "ed" added because other groups had already claimed the name, might better be tagged by another Shorter tune, The "Powder Keg" Quintet, for its explosive energy. Though hammerheaded means dumb, Dan Weeks acknowledged, there is nothing inarticulate about this group. This was underscored from the very first tune, Hank Mobley's "Up A Step," where drummer Weeks' airy structure gave the others all the platform they needed, through "No Room For Squares" (Weeks tried to excuse himself), with bassist Mike Noordzy leaning hard into it, as is his style, pushing notes into the room. For the encore, another Mobley, "This I Dig of You." Weeks finally gave himself a chance to solo beyond drum fills and it was hard-driving without bragging, a perfect finish.

Heavy into hard bop saxman Hank Mobley, the HQ also played Mobley's arrangement of "Three Way Split," Ralph Rainger's ballad, "If I Should Lose You" and guitarist Welch's original, "Eight Balls," recorded on their first album, Crazy Talk from the Brain Head. The CD is highly recommended and available online. Another, Monksplorations, will have been released by the time this article goes to press.

One last tune, Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," gave Ted Chubb the opportunity to deliver his most inspired solo of the night, although each had power and go. Chubb is the only player not from New Jersey. The Ohio-born trumpeter earned honorary status by touring with the stage play "Jersey Boys" from 2006 to 2011. The tour included a guest appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Frisky-fingered guitarist Welch, as low key on stage as he is online, keeps inner heart tightly connected to outer form. Anthony Ware, Jr. and Ted Chubb were the cattle catchers on this train, dislodging everything in their way with a big blast. If Ware, keystone to the group's saxophone-dominated repertoire, drives like he plays, he'd command the Autobahn.

Transitions between soloists were sometimes less than smooth, perhaps a result of not having played together for a while, or the adhocracy that is their governing style—each member has authority to make decisions—collides with group needs. When the parts merged into one, and that was most of the time, they were an oncoming locomotive. And we'd better clear the tracks.

Stamper is well connected in the music business—he graduated from high school with rocker Bon Jovi—but the club is not especially jazz friendly. There are too few seats and no kitchen. You can, however, order food from nearby restaurants. Stamper will see that your order is delivered directly to you. The posters that cover the walls are all rock oriented—"Deadheads Welcome," is typical—and many look home-made, even the stickers plastered on the bar edge. The sound quality is, however, top rate.

Stamper has owned the establishment since 1994 and instituted a no-smoking policy four years before it became law. It was not a popular decision but protecting the musicians, staff and customers from secondhand smoke was important. Looking much younger than his 51 years, the personable Stamper described a visit from Bruce Springsteen, who kept under cover by wearing a knit hat and standing at the far corner of the bar. "The Boss" Springsteen also filmed his BBC special at The Saint which aired in the UK.

Although the website listed 8:00 PM as start time, a guitar duo with a Southern country style opened for the headliners at 8:30. It was closer to 9:30 when the HQ went on. So if you go, it might be wise to call ahead for times. Expect a cover, ours was $8. The Saint seemed to me an unlikely place to find such a powerhouse jazz band. But who's complaining? Not me, baby.

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