The Cookers – Warriors – JLP 1001009, 54:22 ****:
(Billy Harper, tenor sax; Eddie Henderson, trumpet; David Weiss, trumpet; Craig Handy, alto sax and flute; George Cables, piano; Cecil McBee, bass; Billy Hart, drums)
Back in the 1960s in New York City, during the peak of the Blue Note label golden age, various hard boppers would lend their talents to each other’s projects, sometimes playing on two recordings in one day at the studios of Blue Note engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s iconic studio.
At a club date in early 1965 at a small night club a dream one-off band matched together the trumpet front line of both Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, along with James Spaulding on alto and flute. The rhythm section was exemplary with pianist Harold Mabern, bassist Larry Ridley, drummer Pete LaRoca and conga player, Big Black. Unfortunately, the recording session went badly as Morgan and Hubbard did not mesh that night and the recording quality was extremely poor. The recording was issued anyway titled, The Night of the Cookers. It has sold fairly well as the meeting of Hubbard and Morgan was enough to peak jazz fans’ curiosity.
Taking up the mantle of the super group of individual band leaders getting together to either do limited touring or recording, trumpeter David Weiss has reformed the Cookers moniker lately, first trying to aid Freddie Hubbard in a comeback prior to his passing and lately with a dream band combining younger players (Handy and Weiss) along with veterans Harper, Henderson, Cables, McBee, and Hart. Occasionally, Charles Tolliver, would take over Eddie Henderson’s spot on East Coast gigs.
What has stood out with the 2010 version of the Cookers is recording quality is not an issue especially under the JLP banner, and also that egos are set aside and the music takes center stage. Weiss can rightfully brag that its members have played on over 1000 recordings. It, therefore, is a special treat to have had these gentlemen together in the recording studio in mid-January, 2010. Cecil McBee composed three of the eight tracks with Harper and Cables having penned two each.
The opening track, “The Core” is a Freddie Hubbard composition. It provides the most solos of any track with five of the septet members sharing honors. I especially liked the ensemble playing of the front line horns.
Weiss’ arrangement of George Cables’ “Spookarella” leaves drummer Billy Hart, and Craig Handy’s flute to intertwine with piano accents of George Cables. “Close to You Alone” is a gorgeous ballad by McBee where Craig Handy’s alto sax has a soulful solo backed by the sympathetic accompaniment of the trumpets. It would be a treat to hear this track live.
“Priestess” has a familiar melody and the blend of the horns is so effective that you get the impression of a much bigger band. Composer Harper takes off on a tear mid track and his muscular tone has not lost any power over the years. “Sweet Rita Suite-part 2: Her Soul” has a spiritual, ethereal feel brought out by Handy’s flute and later the burnished tone of Henderson’s trumpet.
“Capra Black” the title tune from an early Billy Harper Strata East issue, was well known during the black consciousness period of the early 70s, and I sensed John Coltrane’s inspiration in Harper’s playing here. Two McBee compositions, “Ladybugg” and “U Phoria” close out Warriors. Both are arranged by Weiss. Henderson’s muted trumpet solo highlights the former, while Harper again blows hot on the latter.
Warriors show masters at work. For those of us that did not catch The Cookers in their limited tour this past summer, this CD shares the excitement that they bring to the bandstand.
TrackList: The Core, Spookarella, Close to You Alone, Priestess, Sweet Rita Suite-part 2: Her Soul, Capra Black, Ladybugg, U Phoria.
– Jeff Krow