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Mort Weiss: The B3 And Me

Samuel Chell By

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The results aren't so much shocking as confirmation of the good judgments of DeFrancesco and Weiss.
Mort Weiss
The B3 And Me
SMS Jazz

Although the temptation to retitle this session Bambi Meets Godzilla is a powerful one, the encounter is neither a laughing matter nor a foregone conclusion. Mort Weiss is the Rip Van Winkle of jazz, a musician who dropped out of the scene and ignored his clarinet for forty years before making an incredible, possibly unprecedented, recent comeback.

Small wonder then that Weiss's tone and melodic lines, though commanding instant respect, sounded somewhat tentative and deliberative on his comeback release, a distinguished duo session with guitarist Ron Eschete (No Place To Hide, SMS Jazz, 2002). There's certainly nothing tentative about this most recent disc—featuring a pseudonymous Joey DeFrancesco on the B3—which appears to have been made scarcely two years after the other album.

Although the real story behind The B3 And Me is the music on the disc itself, the peculiar history surrounding it deserves at least some passing mention. An earlier session with Weiss and DeFrancesco was all set to go in the summer of 2003—distributors lined up, accompanying club dates and radio promotion scheduled, album art and marketing arrangements all but finalized—when Concord decided the release of the album would detract excessively from its own release of a CD featuring DeFrancesco, a contracted artist with the label.

Accordingly, Concord pulled the plug on the project. Following considerable personal expense in time and money, Weiss was finally able to work out a deal permitting the release of the earlier session providing DeFrancesco's name not appear in the title. The present, later session, however, appeared to be all but a lost cause until the encouragement of DeFrancesco and the persistence of Weiss led to Concord's permitting the release of The B3 And Me provided it bill DeFrancesco only as "It's Him" on the front cover. Another stipulation was that neither DeFrancesco's photo or name appear anywhere on the album—all this to insure the commercial success of a Concord release of dubious importance: DeFrancesco's meeting with singer Joe Doggs, aka actor Joe Pesci.

So now we finally have the opportunity to hear not merely Joey DeFrancesco's trio, or DeFrancesco with a "likely" complement such as tenor saxophonist Houston Person, but DeFrancesco's potentially overpowering instrument alongside Weiss's seemingly underpowered clarinet (or that of any player of an instrument comparatively neglected since the days of Benny Goodman). The results aren't so much shocking as confirmation of the good judgments of DeFrancesco and Weiss, together with the tasteful execution of the former and the spirited performance of the latter.

The opener, "Ornithology," is an impressive harbinger of what's to come, with B3 and clarinet in perfect synch—sonically and rhythmically. The second tune, Jimmy Van Heusen's "I Thought About You," is so tight and right in the groove that you're soon addicted—to the sound of this unusual pairing but above all to the foot-tapping, head and body-shaking good vibes of a session that combines co-ordinated, empathetic playing with the loose and spontaneous feel of a blowing session.

DeFrancesco is not one of those keyboard players who limits himself to a mere one or two sounds out of the myriad possibilities available to him on his instrument's tonal palette. On Victor Young's "Love Letters" he pulls out all the stops, summoning up emotions ranging from soft-spoken whispers to passionate embraces, going from chamber-music intimacy to operatic-aria dramatics, then activating the Leslies and sweeping the listener on a rapturous glissando into the suddenly personal, quietly dynamic domain of Weiss's clarinet.

It's doubtful, moreover, that any organist pumps the bass pedals with more authority, and consequently swings harder, whether on the aforementioned ballad, a medium-tempo "Billy's Bounce," or a rampaging, speed-limit-breaking "You Stepped Out Of A Dream."

Weiss's singular clarinet sound is at once beautifully recorded and ideally balanced. His tones are vintage, cured, complex—his sustained notes, especially in the mid-register, phosphorescent and alive, putting wave patterns and frequencies into playful motion even when a single note is held. Although his is an unaggressive, delayed attack, he possesses deceptive technique, perhaps not matching DeFrancesco's adventurous harmonic-melodic ideas (especially on an absolutely jaw-dropping solo on "Autumn Leaves") but keeping up with him in speed.

The rhythm section is the unit that had just completed an international tour with DeFrancesco at the time of the recording. Guitarist Graig Ebner aims musical bullets with the purposeful accuracy of a Jimmy Ponder or Pat Martino. Drummer Byron Landham certainly knows how to lock in with the organist's left foot, but also demonstrates a rhythmic versatility and control of dynamics distinguishing him from most B3-group drummers. In fact, he's one of the main reasons that DeFrancesco can scale his massive machine not only to match Weiss's overachieving diminutive instrument but also to capture an expressive range of colors not normally associated with the B3—at least as it is commonly played.

But then again, there's little about this extraordinary yet inviting, friendly session that qualifies as "common."

Tracks: Ornithology; I Thought About You; Falling In Love With Love; Love Letters; Billy's Bounce; Autumn Leaves; Yesterdays; You Stepped Out Of A Dream; Fools Rush In.

Personnel: Mort Weiss: clarinet; Joey DeFrancesco: Hammond B3 organ; Byron Landham: drums; Craig Ebner: guitar.

Track Listing: Ornithology; I Thought About You; Falling In Love With Love; Love Letters; Billy's Bounce; Autumn Leaves; Yesterdays; You Stepped Out Of A Dream; Fool's Rush In.

Personnel: Personnel: Mort Weiss: clarinet; Joey DeFrancesco: Hammond B3 organ; Byron Landham: drums; Craig Ebner: guitar.

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: SMS Jazz | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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