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Mort Weiss: Mort Weiss is a Jazz Reality Show

Dan Bilawsky By

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In recent years, life has thrown one obstacle after another at the feet of octogenarian clarinetist Mort Weiss. Divorce, loss of home, cancer, and hospitalization for a variety of other life-threatening ailments all came at him, threatening to kill his resolve and cut him down. But it would seem that practically nothing is capable of felling this forthright man and fine clarinetist. This album gives ample proof that there's a lot of musical life left in Mort Weiss.

With everything that's transpired since the arrival of Weiss' previous album—the free-thinking A Giant Step Out And Back (SMS Jazz, 2013)—a change of scenery was in order. After recording all of his previous work on the West Coast, Weiss turned his gaze toward New York for his twelfth album in as many years. He set up shop in Brooklyn's System Two Recording Studio for a day in April of 2015, reconnected with pianist Don Friedman—an old friend that Weiss originally met prior to his four decades away from performance—and laid down a set of classics with Friedman's trio, putting his beguiling and bold clarinet playing in the spotlight throughout.

Following a dedicatory introduction, every number on the playlist, save for Weiss' own "Blues For Sandy," is familiar. There are ballad gems like "Body And Soul," introduced here by a clarinet cadenza; lighthearted swingers like "I Remember You," on which Friedman tosses off an easy-to-miss Thelonious Monk quote in the middle of his solo; up-tempo rides like "The Lamp Is Low," which gives Weiss' fluid fingers a chance to really go; and guest appearances by clarinetist Michael Marcus, who joins the leader on "Just Friends," and vocalist Carmela Rappazzo, who charms on "Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea."

Weiss' wit, lyricism, fluid sense of phrasing, and openness all inform this music. And while this could technically be considered a straightforward session, such a thing doesn't really exist when Mort Weiss is pulling the strings and playing the clarinet. This album may contain a fair amount of strict-time swing numbers, but Weiss isn't always bound by conventions. There are rubato phrases, exploratory ventures, and plenty of high wire maneuvers from the man at the helm. And there's also plenty of interaction with these first-rate musicians. Bassist Phil Palombi is willing to look beyond the norm and take a walk with Weiss at the outset of "Yesterdays," but he's also a pocket player, locking things in with his strong lines; drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi is a strong swing stylist, pushing and propping up his band mates, delivering subtle accompaniment with brushes, and stoking the flames with sticks; and Friedman is pure class, plain and simple. When you put Mort Weiss in contact with these three, the results are priceless. If only all reality shows were this entertaining.

Track Listing: 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.

Personnel: Mort Weiss: clarinet, vocals (4); Don Friedman: piano; Phil Palombi: bass; Shinnosuke Takahashi: drums; Michael Marcus: clarinet (5); Carmela Rappazzo: vocals (11).

Title: Mort Weiss is a Jazz Reality Show | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: SMS Jazz

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