Jazz CD Reviews

Ezra Weiss – Our Path to this Moment (The Rob Scheps Big Band Plays the Music of Ezra Weiss) – Roark Records

An impressive effort from Weiss and Schep‘s big band…

Published on September 11, 2012

Ezra Weiss – Our Path to this Moment (The Rob Scheps Big Band Plays the Music of Ezra Weiss) – Roark Records

Ezra Weiss – Our Path to this Moment (The Rob Scheps Big Band Plays the Music of Ezra Weiss) – Roark Records, 54:18 ****:

(Ezra Weiss, Composer, arranger, pianist (on #3,4,6); Rob Scheps Big Band: Gary Harris, David Valdez, Rob Scheps, Scott Hall, Robert Crowell -Reeds; Rich Cooper, Paul Mazzio, Greg Garrett, Conte Bennett – trumpets; Stan Bock, Tom Hill, John Moak -trombones; Jatik Clark- tuba; Ramsey Embick- piano (#1,2,5,7); Tim Gilson- bass; Ward Griffiths – drums; Chaz Mortimer – percussion (#3,7); Special guest: Greg Gisbert – trumpet on tracks #1, 2, & 7)

For those of you who live outside of the Northwest (primarily Portland), Ezra Weiss is mostly unknown. However his musical pedigree is impressive.  He is a composer, pianist, and a professor of music at Portland State University. He has a degree in Jazz Composition from Oberlin College, and has a Masters Degree in Jazz Piano Performance from Queens College. Weiss has five CDs as a leader between 2003 to 2011.

With backing from Kickstarter donors, Weiss has just recently released a self-produced CD, Our Path to this Moment, in which the Portland-based big band of Rob Scheps interprets five Weiss compositions as well as Ezra’s arrangement of the Styne/Cahn chestnut, “It’s You or No One,” as well as the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger.”

What is immediately apparent in listening to Ezra’s CD is the dynamic range and lyrical power of his compositions. The title track’s brass section leaps out at you in this big band chamber jazz track. Guest artist Greg Gisbert helps raise the intensity and the reeds play a supporting role in an orchestral setting. Later, Rob Scheps solos on soprano sax. The polish and sheen of this track sets an auspicious beginning to this CD.

“Rise and Fall” continues the anthemic themes of the title track. Scheps has the big band in full drive, and Gisbert again demonstrates his power and bravado firing off chorus after chorus of crisp blowing. Robert Crowell contributes a throaty baritone sax solo, while drummer Griffith’s percussive drumming ups the ante. When the full band kicks in near the track’s conclusion their power is undeniable. The engineering by Dennis Carter is top notch.

“Kulangeta” is a more laid back sophisticated track in which the theme is stated and revisited, while trombonist Tom Hill has a gut bucket trombone  growling solo . “The Promise” follows with a gorgeous alto sax solo by David Valdez, on this lyrical number, while Ramsey Embick on piano contributes to the atmospheric mood. “Jessie’s Song” sounds like it belongs on a movie soundtrack with its lilting piano from Weiss and the soothing ensemble playing between the reeds and horns. It mixes big band power with lyrical interludes. Scott Hall on tenor gets a passionate tenor solo mid track.

The traditional domain, “Wayfaring Stranger” closes the CD, and we have a  jazz meets a church service memorial opening by trumpeter Gisbert before the band kicks in restating the theme in a big band arrangement aided by some fine percussion by Chaz Mortimer.

Our Path to this Moment covers all the bases in a polished effort in which sophisticated melodies mate with horns. Brass with sass meet catchy melodies. Certainly a winning combination. Keep your eye on Ezra Weiss as his territory expands outside of the Pacific Northwest…

TrackList: Our Path to This Moment, Rise and Fall, It’s You Or No One, Kunlangeta, The Promise, Jessie’s Song, Wayfaring Strangers

—Jeff Krow

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