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The ability to create music that is intellectually provocative and eminently approachable is a challenge to which many artists aspire but relatively few manage to succeed. Trumpeter Davis Weiss has certainly had the opportunity to explore both sides of the equation. In high demand over the past decade, he has worked with artists including Bob Belden, Freddie Hubbard and Tom Harrell in capacities involving performance, arrangement and transcription. But it has only been since his '01 début as a leader, Breathing Room , that he has emerged as a composer and bandleader of significance.
Now with The Mirror , he demonstrates that Breathing Room was no fluke as he serves up a programme marking him as one of the more cerebral yet visceral writers to arise in recent years. With an album that is heady in both senses of the wordintelligent and exhilaratingWeiss emerges as one of the finest artists to mine the post bop arena, with an ability to develop longer-form composition that is clearly indebted to Wayne Shorter. Not since Dave Douglas rose to prominence in the mid-'90s has a trumpet player come along with such a perfect combination of technical prowess, unerring instinct for captivating melody, harmony and counterpoint, and sheer emotional force. A masterpiece by any definition, The Mirror deserves a place high in most listeners' top ten lists for '04 for its ability to engage more than just the ears; Weiss' compositions are remarkably visual as well.
This is no surprise, given that Weiss has worked heavily as a freelance artist for stage and screen, citing Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky as having a profound influence on his work. Like a good filmmaker, Weiss views his compositions and his record as having a larger underlying arc. "The Stalker" may alternate between an odd-metered tempestuous vamp and a hard-swinging middle section, but it is when placed beside the more relaxed and harmonically rich title track, that a musical story begins to come forward. Weiss' themes may be deep and complicated, but they unravel at a pace that ensures they remain fresh in the mind long after their time has passed.
Utilizing two ensemblesa sextet for the first five pieces and an octet for the remaining two, Weiss has chosen his players well. Especially notable are alto saxophonist Myron Walden, still in his early 30s and already well-established with a robust tone and boldly lyrical style; and pianist Xavier Davis, who provides rich accompaniment, especially to Weiss, who never lets technical concerns get in the way of structural and evocative integrity in his solos.
Along with five original compositions, Weiss features a piece by pianist Kevin Hays and, more importantly, closes the album with an octet version of Wayne Shorter's "Mr. Jin," bringing a deeper sense of counterpoint to the tune without losing its innate swing. A fitting homage that shows just how far he has come, Weiss draws a strong line between the past and present, The Mirror being the perfect analogy for self-examination without self-absorption.
Track Listing: Stalker; The Mirror; Nostalghia; Our Trip; The Sacrifice; Love Letter to One Not Yet Met; Mr. Jin
Personnel: David Weiss (trumpet), Myron Walden (alto saxophone), Xavier Davis (piano), Dwayne Burno (bass), Marcus Strickland (tenor saxophone on "Stalker," "The Mirror," "Nostalgia," "Our Trip," "The Sacrifice"), E.J. Strickland (drums on "Stalker," "The Mirror," "Nostalgia," "Our Trip," "The Sacrifice"), Craig Handy (tenor saxophone on "Love Letter to One Not Yet Met," "Mr. Jin"), Steve Davis (trombone on "Love Letter to One Not Yet Met," "Mr. Jin"), Norbert Stachel (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet on "Love Letter to One Not Yet Met," "Mr. Jin"), Nasheet Waits (drums on "Love Letter to One Not Yet Met," "Mr. Jin")