The informal definition of a Character
is an "odd, eccentric, or unusual person." That is a bit disappointing in that "odd, eccentric, and unusual" more often than not may be pejorative. I prefer a "unique, memorable, or exceptional person." That said, it takes all six adjectives to adequately describe clarinetist Mort Weiss, who with this recording makes me eat a whole crow soufflé considering I was tempted to take him at his word that his last release, A Giant Step Out And Back
(SMS Jazz, 2013) would be his, well, last
. I opined then, "His last recording? That remains to be seen, so I will hedge my bets..."
Good thing I did.
With a brief introduction and dedication over a solo "Yesterdays" Mort Weiss, adds a jazz noir pastiche to a collection of a dozen ballads, each treated as only Weiss can, as the malleable artworks they are, molding and bending to his expert talent and will. Did I say ballads? Well, the DeRose/Sheffer/Parish classic "The Lamp is Low" is traditionally a ballad, but Weiss decides to demonstrate what happens when on irradiates bebop with gamma rays, causing it to glow. He does the same on "Just Friends" where he duets with clarinet protégé Michael Marcus
and on the closer "Avalon."
A brief digress on bebop clarinet...
The clarinet is an instrument that is most closely identified with traditional ("Dixieland") jazz through the work of George Lewis
, Sidney Bechet
, and Johnny Dodds
and swing ("Big Band") through Benny Goodman
, Artie Shaw
, and Woody Herman
. When it came to bebop clarinet, it was always Buddy DeFranco
and I said as much, eventually receiving an email from one Tony Scott
who took a bit of an exception to me mentioning DeFranco and not himself. Scott shared an ebullient personality with our present Mort Weiss, who absolutely belongs to this group of bebop clarinetists, if not, today, acting as the Dean of their school. One need listen to the above three tracks to hear this.
Lengthy readings of "Like Someone in Love" and "Yesterdays" demonstrate that Weiss was long overdue to lay out his musical vision in detail and he does so here. His tone is sweet and woody like fine pipe tobacco carefully aged (no pun intended, Mort!) and presented. His musical ideas are constant and fresh. He never repeats himself, showing his insistent and determined practice. Pianist Don Friedman
and his fine quartet provide Weiss the support he deserves where they are not rolling their own on the faster pieces. I will stop very short of saying that this is the last we will hear of Mort Weiss. If it is, that is our loss.
Dedication Music from Yesterdays; The Lamp is Low; Like Someone in Love; Blues for Sandy; Just Friends; Stella by Starlight; Body and Soul; I Remember You; Yesterdays; It Might as Well Be Spring; Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; That’s All; Avalon.
Mort Weiss: clarinet, vocals (4); Don Friedman: piano; Phil Palombi: bass; Shinnosuke Takahashi: drums; Michael Marcus: clarinet (5); Carmela Rappazzo: vocals (11).