David Weiss & Point of Departure – Wake Up Call [TrackList follows] – Ropeadope RAD-328, 76:08 [2/10/17] ****:
A re-consideration of the early fusion era with remarkable results.
(David Weiss – trumpet, Fender Rhodes (tracks 1, 5); Myron Walden – tenor saxophone (tracks 1, 5-9); J.D. Allen – tenor saxophone (tracks 2-4); Ben Eunson – guitar (solos on tracks 1, 5, 7, 9); Nir Felder – guitar (tracks 2-4, solos on tracks 3-4); Travis Reuter – guitar (tracks 1, 5-9, solos on tracks 6, 8); Matt Clohesy – bass; Kush Abadey – drums)
Trumpeter, composer and band leader David Weiss has a wide-ranging inquisitiveness and acquaintance with both modernistic, forward-seeking jazz and early jazz-fusion. On the 76-minute Wake Up Call, Weiss’ latest album with his ensemble Point of Departure, he showcases his uncanny ability to uncork material which is not always well-known to jazz fans, but which brings to life music which has an essence that goes beyond what is predictable. Notably, there are no originals among the nine tracks on Wake Up Call, and yet Weiss has managed to put compositions by John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and others into a cohesive and thematic whole. No easy feat to reinterpret other musicians’ work and make it comfortably fit into a singular compendium. Weiss slices his album into three sections: Prologue; Unfinished Business; and New Beginning.
Weiss not only changes perceptions of other artists’ material, but he alters his group’s line-up. Outgoing tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen is heard on three cuts, while new tenor sax player Myron Walden is featured on six numbers. Drummer Jamire Williams is gone; Kush Abadey now sits behind the drum kit. Guitarist Nir Felder is on three tracks, while new guitarists Ben Eunson and Travis Reuter are used on the remaining material. The one holdover is bassist Matt Clohesy. This larger ensemble provides Weiss a broader sonic palette, which he utilizes to his benefit on extended pieces (the shortest tune is over five minutes in length, most are eight to 12 minutes long).
Weiss’ prologue employs McLaughlin’s “Sanctuary,” from the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s 1973 LP, Birds of Fire. Weiss maintains McLaughlin’s ominous expression but heightens the foreboding mannerisms by stretching the arrangement to nearly ten minutes while supplying room for Walden to deliver stinging sax notes, while Abadey sustains both a ticking and an intensified rhythmic pulse. During “Sanctuary,” Eunson also channels McLaughlin during his comprehensive solo shift. The middle chapter of Weiss’ musical narrative, Unfinished Business, contains three tracks. Up first is Shorter’s slightly obscure “Two Faced,” which comes from Miles Davis’ compilation, Water Babies. Davis’ 1968 recording (not issued until 1976) was early fusion: electric and acoustic instruments balanced via a directional groove. Weiss abbreviates his version by six minutes, but at 12:22 “Two Faced” still has lots of space to preserve a continuum of groove, theme and subtle progression, and the way the band gradually, inextricably escalates the tempo and enthusiasm is something to hear. Allen and Weiss both offer encompassing solos. During the tune’s first half, Weiss suggests Miles Davis’ tone and emotive conveyance. In the second half, Allen takes over and displays his precise control and command of his tenor sax. The remainder of Unfinished Business comprises two Charles Moore tunes. Moore was part of Detroit’s 1960s-and-onward DIY artistic community, and didn’t have much commercial success, which means his “Multidirection” and “Noh Word” are probably unknown to most listeners. The nearly-nine minute “Multidirection” has an energy and conviction like “Two Faced,” but is more assertive and insistent, while conserving a jazz-fusion affirmation. There is a quieter momentum on “Noh Word,” where Allen and Weiss meld beautifully together and then layer in supple soloing.
The New Beginning segment has five interpretations, and this is where Weiss pulls the band into some stimulating musical pathways. A must-hear is Henderson’s “Gazelle,” where Walden blows up a storm. This is Henderson before his funk period, and as such, it’s a track which pushes into bop and neo-bop territory with great results. Kudos to Weiss for presenting this and introducing it to a new audience. Weiss revisits Detroit jazz roots with Kenny Cox’s “Sojourn.” Cox, like Moore, is another artist who remains little known to current jazz fans. “Sojourn” is prime post-bop/pre-fusion. Two of Tony Williams’ pieces, “Pee Wee” and “The Mystic Knights of the Sea,” are also part of the New Beginning portion. Weiss transforms “Pee Wee” from the modulated, modal tune on Miles Davis’ 1967 LP, Sorcerer, and into a sometimes-boisterous workout fronted by Eunson’s declamatory guitar. “The Mystic Knights of the Sea” is another one which Weiss unearthed and big thanks for that. Williams’ fusion-fueled original is from his 1972 release, The Old Bum’s Rush, and is not often encountered by Williams’ aficionados. Eunson flies high on his searing and soaring solo, and Walden establishes a comparable turn for his intense sax improvisation. There is a palpable synthesis which suffuses throughout Wake Up Call, as if all these disparate compositions were always meant to be together, forming a compressive collection. Weiss’ brilliance is how he reveals how elements from different sources can have connections which are not apparent but make complete sense.
I Prologue: Sanctuary
II Unfinished Business: Two Faced, Multidirection, Noh Word
III New Beginning: Gazelle, Sojourn, Pee Wee, Songs Esquecidos, The Mystic Knights of the Sea