Trumpeter David Weiss is rejuvenating mainstream jazz with the tough work ethic and clarity of purpose that his hard bop predecessors brought to the Blue Note label throughout the sixties. Kind of a hard bop Dave Douglas, Weiss's specialty as a composer is stretching the boundaries of the genre without straying too far from the mainstream.
On The Mirror, Weiss takes a respite from his well-received New Jazz Composer's Octet to create a set of songs inspired by the works of Russian filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky. While his inspiration may be a bit esoteric for most listeners, the songs here are more a return to sounds of his 2001 release Breathing Room than they are an exercise in impressionistic jazz.
With the supporting cast of Breathing Room accounted for, The Mirror brims with energy and offers a multi-textured experience on the strengths of tenors Marcus Strickland and Craig Handy, as well as altoist Myron Walden. The opening track, "Stalker," is representative of Weiss's sound by this time, featuring slightly odd tempos and plenty of room for the soloists to stretch out. The song is good fun, with its thrumming three-note vamp powered by Strickland and Handy and the swift right hand of Xavier Davis. After years working together, Davis, bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer E.J. Strickland are operating on a telepathic level, and it's always a pleasure to hear them work within the Weiss architecture.
There's much to enjoy on The Mirror, and most of it hinges upon individual talent. The fleet Hubbard-like playing of Weiss on "The Mirror." The wide range of tones employed by Walden on "The Sacrifice." The bass clarinet of Norbert Stachel adding a likeable postmodern feel to "Love Letter To One Not Yet Met." But there's a sameness to Weiss's compositions (he leans quite heavily on 3/8 time throughout all his recordings) and more often than not the parts are more memorable than the whole. In fact, on mid-to-downtempo compositions like "The Mirror" and "Nostalghia" [sic], the playing seems to meander, hoping to latch onto a passing melody that never arrives.
The closer, "Mr. Jin," is the best track on The Mirror, with its somber intro, doubled up horn passages, funky double time, and the soulful tones of Strickland. Of all the songs on The Mirror, it offers the most memorable arrangement by Weiss. But I'm guessing that's not quite what he was shooting for, considering that "Mr. Jin" is a Wayne Shorter composition.
Personnel: David Weiss: trumpet;
Myron Walden: alto saxophone;
Marcus Strickland: tenor saxophone;
Xavier Davis: piano;
Dwayne Burno: bass;
E.J. Strickland: drums;
Craig Handy: tenor saxophone;
Steve Davis: trombone;
Norbert Stachel: baritone saxophone and bass clarinet;
Nasheet Waits: drums.