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Ezra Weiss Sextet: Before You Know It [Live In Portland]

Dave Wayne By

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On Before You Know It, pianist / composer Ezra Weiss provides convincing evidence for the continued health and well-being of good old, straight ahead, gimmick-free modern acoustic jazz. The archetype for Weiss' beefy band and punchy charts would include Art Blakey's expanded Jazz Messenger lineups, some of McCoy Tyner's larger groups from the early-to-late 1970s, or perhaps some of Slide Hampton's septets and octets. Yet, Weiss' sound is utterly contemporary, exploring a wide variety of modern jazz styles in a consistently appealing fashion.

A democratic and somewhat effacing bandleader, Weiss takes a back seat to his very impressive three-horn front line. Here, alto saxophonist John Nastos is the most remarkable of the three in terms of chops and overall concept. He projects a ton of sound through his horn, and though his style seems to be a synthesis of David Sanborn's gritty gospel / soul sound and the more edgy flavors of modernists such as Arthur Blythe, Nastos' approach to this jazz-soul mind-meld consistently yields spine-tingling musical fireworks. He's the sort of soloist who can absolutely bring down the house, and he does so repeatedly on the title track, "Winter Machine" and "Don't Need No Ticket." Trumpeter Farnell Newton (who also designed the very attractive album packaging) is one of those brassmen who can turn the "gravel" in his sound on or off at will. Technically a beast, Newton's effortless soloing is reminiscent of past masters such as Woody Shaw and Lee Morgan. Devin Phillips is a classic "bull tenor" in the mold of Booker Ervin and Clifford Jordan. Despite the sterling performances by Newton, and Nastos throughout Before You Know It, Phillips' volcanic solo on John Coltrane's "Alabama" is an absolute tour de force that gets my vote for the single best performance on the entire album. The rest of the band is no less accomplished. Drummer Christopher Brown is an utterly contemporary and tasteful player who doesn't let his extraordinary chops subsume the subtlety required by Weiss' music. Brown's attention to swinging support frees up Jon Shaw's bass in ways that makes the music all the more interesting, while Weiss' expert comping only made me wish he'd solo more.

Most of the album is devoted to Weiss' original compositions which, while firmly in the modern mainstream jazz style, display enough stylistic variation to keep the listener on his or her toes. Fresh and interesting ideas abound throughout Before You Know It. The album's centerpiece, "The Five A. M. Strut," is a classic post-bop blowing tune recast as a New Orleans Second Line jam. Gospel, soul and R&B influences are quite evident on "Don't Need No Ticket" and the album-closing title track. A classic post-bop / 60's Blue Note vibe carries the day on "The Crusher," while Weiss' arrangement of George Gershwin's "A Foggy Day" is steeped in the post-Coltrane sound of McCoy Tyner's and Gary Bartz's recent work. "Jessie's Song" is similar, but a bit more elaborate, and really shows off Weiss' strengths as a composer / arranger; he also gets in a sweet solo spot here, as well.

Track Listing: Winter Machine; The Crusher; Don't Need No Ticket; A Foggy Day; Jessie's Song; The Five A. M. Strut; Alabama; EZ Introduces The Band; Before You Know It.

Personnel: Ezra Weiss: piano; Farnell Newton: trumpet; John Nastos: alto saxophone; Devin Phillips: tenor saxophone; Jon Shaw: bass; Christopher Brown: drums.

Title: Before You Know It [Live In Portland] | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Roark Records

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