The Cookers – Time and Time Again – Motema MTA CD-159, 61:54 [9/14/14] ****:

(Billy Harper – tenor sax; Eddie Henderson – trumpet; David Weiss – trumpet; Donald Harrison – alto sax; George Cables – piano; Cecil McBee – bass; Billy Hart – drums)

Calling The Cookers a supe-group is an understatement. Having been together over five years and with this, their fourth album, they are a unique aggregation of veteran musicians, who each having lead their own groups for years, are together to let any ego issues aside and concentrate on what is important, the music alone. Having recently added Donald Harrison on alto sax, one wonders if they will add a trombonist to totally flesh out their band, and become known as a much edgier Jazz Messengers for the new millennium.

Listening to The Cookers involves concentration. They do not play background music. Though they can play lyrical ballads and bluesy fare (witness “Slippin’ and Slidin,” and “Farewell Mulgrew (Miller)”, they can and do push the envelope into intense post-bop blowing.

The wild card – for intensity – is certainly Bill Harper. Those numbers in which Billy is the focus tend to push the envelope the most. Saying that, “Reneda” written by Harper keeps the intensity down to a low boil with Eddie Henderson, Donald Harrison, and George Cables leading the way.  “Double or Nothing” from Cables shares the wealth with solos spread four deep. George’s piano solo shows he has more than recovered from past illnesses. De facto bandleader (and founder), David Weiss contributes “Three Fall”, which has some nice effective ensemble passages, before Harper’s passionate blowing  pushed by Billy Hart’s heavy stick work kicks the tune into overdrive.

“Farewell Mulgrew” from Cables is a tender tribute to Mulgrew Miller, whose loss last year was a major blow to the jazz community as his passing was so sudden. The horns lock into a groove, while Cables has the only solo. Closing tunes, “Dance of the Invisible Nymph” and “Dance Eternal Spirits Dance” make nice bookends. They have a pulsing vibe set by Eddie Henderson and Donald Harrison on the former, and a stop time bluesy intro by Harper, and some pushing of the envelope blowing by Donald Harrison on the latter.

The Cookers are on a West Coast tour this month. I am anxious to catch them when they play in Portland on Oct. 1.

TrackList: Sir Galahad, Reneda, Slippin’ and Slidin’, Double or Nothing, Farewell Mulgrew, Three Fall, Time and Time Again, Dance of the Invisible Nymph, Dance Eternal Spirits Dance

—Jeff Krow