Monday, July 14, 2014

David Weiss Sextet - When Words Fail

Regarding the motivation for When Words Fail, the new Motema Music CD by David Weiss and his Sextet, Weiss explains that: “[T]he last year or so has been a time of profound loss for me and a lot of my close friends and acquaintances. Some of these losses have been very public and horrific. These were the themes that were swimming through my head as I put the final touches on the music for this CD and began to rehearse it. But, ideally, it’s also about lifting one out of that world, so it should also be about rebirth, hope and finding your way back. The music on When Words Fail is about acknowledging your pain but also about finding a way out, or at the very least, providing a temporary escape. I don’t want to say that this is what I strive for or set out to do when composing, but I do hope that this is what the end result of my endeavors will encompass.” 

For this album, Weiss reassembled his “original band,” The David Weiss Sextet, featuring his original band-mates (once fledgling artists themselves and now proven jazz stalwarts), Saxophonists Marcus Strickland (tenor sax) and Myron Walden (alto sax), pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Dwayne Burno, and drummer E.J. Strickland (plus guitarist Ben Eunsen making his recording debut on two tracks). Tragically these were Burno’s final recordings, as he passed away at the early age of 43, a week after these recordings were made. This album is dedicated to him. 
The music here will not sound unfamiliar for those who have enjoyed Weiss' work with The Cookers or his other efforts. It suggests some of the classic Shorter and Hancock sessions for Blue Note. The compositions are fresh and interesting and the performances are terrific, starting with the sparkling The Intrepid Hub, that was written for Freddie Hubbard. Burno was impressed by the title track when they first rehearsed it and the rendition here, Weiss states, is for him with a slower tempo. Weiss takes notable solos on both. MJ evokes the classic second Miles Davis Quintet renditions of Wayne Shorter’s compositions. Marcus Strickland standing out on tenor while the leader’s tone is a bit more extroverted than Davis while guitarist Eunsen is heard adding fiery playing. 

Wayward, part of an extended suite, is a feature for Walden’s fervent alto sax with E.J. Strickland energetic playing driving things along, while Davis also takes a solo. Karl Jenkins’ “Lullaby For a Lonely Child” is another sober composition that showcases Walden. The closing number, Passage Into Eternity, is dedicated to Jimmy, Nelba and Isaiah Greene whose daughter (and sister) was one of the victims of the Newtown massacre. Marcus Strickland and Weiss both stand out here, with more kudos to the terrific rhythm section. Burno was an anchor, Davis’ comping was precise and Strickland is among today’s most compelling drummers. This track concludes a terrific recording that is full of heart as well as exquisite playing. 

I received my review copy from Motema Music. This review appeared in slightly different form in the July-August 2014 Jazz & Blues Report (I made some corrections). You can download the issue as a pdf file at by clicking on that issue (355).  Here is a video of the making of When Words Fail.

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