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

Edward Blanco By

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Portland State University professor Ezra Weiss is a prominent pianist and composer in his own right who has several recordings to his credit and is a three-time winner of the prestigious ASCAP Young Composer Award. A traditionalist who prefers the straight ahead and modern jazz styles, Weiss delivers another gem on Before You Know It [Live In Portland], his seventh album as leader with one important distinction: the session was recorded at the Ivories Jazz Lounge in Portland, Oregon, for Weiss' very first documented live set.

Though leading many different groups throughout his career, especially during the New York years, Weiss gravitates to the sextet format which has worked so well for him in the past, as it does so again here. The pianist augments the standard piano trio with a three-horn section that include alto saxophonist John Nastos, tenor man Devin Phillips and trumpeter Farnell Newton—all playing prominent roles in powerhouse small ensemble reminiscent of the 1958 Miles Davis sextet featuring John Coltrane and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley as well as Art Blakey's famous Jazz Messengers of the same period that boasted the likes of Wayne Shorter and Lee Morgan in the horn section.

To open the date, the leader reprises a composition from his 2006 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award, with the high-energy "Winter Machine" highlighting solid solos from Nastos, Newton as well as a crisp drumming performance by Christopher Brown. The intensity continues on "The Crusher," an up tempo burner with more of Newton's trumpet leading the way with Weiss and the reeds in superb support. The band changes direction on "Don't Need No Ticket," which offers a warm soulful ballad holding the soft spot of the disc.

The Gershwin's "A Foggy Day," and Coltrane's haunting "Alabama," are the only two standards appearing on a set of primarily original compositions and the pianists' original "The Five A.M. Strut," from Weiss's debut album, is the most ambitious piece of the recording at a lengthy fifteen-minutes plus in duration. The live set closes on the soulful and funky ballad title track of some significance for the pianist, for it was penned for his first son and features delicate solos from the entire horn section.

An unselfish player, Weiss crafts an amazing album where the center of attention is rarely his, preferring to let the members his audacious sextet take center stage. Nevertheless, Weiss can't escape the reality that It's the quality of his music, that truly shines here and makes Before You Know It [Live In Portland] such a memorable musical experience.

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: 2014 | Record Label: Roark Records

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