Taking their name from a series of classic Blue Note live recordings, The Cookers is an ensemble built upon some of the strongest jazz musicians of the past half century or so. With the tenor saxophone of Billy Harper and trumpet of Eddie Henderson they are supported by a rhythm section of pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart. These five have graced clubs, stages and recording studios with the likes of Dexter Gordon, Max Roach, Lee Morgan, Herbie Hancock, Art Blakey and countess others, while each also establishing a formidable legacy of their own.
More recently they have been joined by younger players in their tradition: trumpeter Dan Weiss and alto saxophonist Craig Handy. Weiss in fact has become the band’s straw boss and produced the group’s latest disc, Cast the First Stone (Plus Loin Music). Saxophonist Azar Lawrence guests on several tracks on this. The compositions are originals from Harper, McBee and Cables with one exception.
The title track is a Harper original built around a punchy four note figure that sports tempo changes in its melody and displays the band’s fiery approach that may suggest some of the recordings by Woody Shaw and others from the seventies and eighties with the energetic ensembles and surging solos from Harper, Weiss and Cables. The latter mixes in a more melodic segment as McBee buzzes around him and Hart mixes in adept use of accents on his cymbals, before Harper takes the lead with some fiery playing followed. The nature of the composition gives the performance a rougher feel. McBee’s Peacemaker has a lighter, more supple tone with Henderson taking the initial solo employing a mute. He is followed by a lengthy solo from Craig Handy and then McBee, as Cables and Hart softly play under him.
Cables’ Looking For Light has an elegance to it. Guest Azar Lawrence adds some alluring soprano, soloing along with Henderson (again using a mute) and Cables reinforcing the spirit of the performance. Harper’s The Seventh Day has a more forceful cast, followed by the uplifting Croquet Ballet. Harper, Weiss and Cables solo on both numbers while the latter tune also includes a solo from Handy. After Cables’ Think of Me where Henderson soars, the recording concludes with Harold Mabern’s The Chief, that features dynamic tenor sax solos from Lawrence and Harper, and a drum solo by Hart. It concludes a strong recording.
This is not simply an all-star band put together for the studio, but a working group as evident through the striking performances of fresh, engaging material.
A publicist provided me with my review copy.
Here are The Cookers (with Kirk Lightsey in lieu of George Cables).