Believe It: The Cookers’ New Album Is Amazing
The Cookers’ 2010 album Warriors ranked as one of that year’s top ten jazz albums here: how does their new one, Believe, just out from Motema, stack up alongside it? It’s different, and it’s even better. It’s one of those rare albums that come along a handful of times a year, that will blow you away the first time you give it a close listen. Who would have thought that all but two of the members of this perennially vital, intense veteran septet – saxophonists Billy Harper and Craig Handy, trumpeters Eddie Henderson and David Weiss, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart – are in their sixties or seventies? And who would have imagined that they’d come out with an album that’s mostly midtempo, with a couple of brooding ballads? This one has gravitas, rich melodic beauty and all sorts of deep playing and interplay. Interestingly, much as this band is all about power and fiery chops, it’s the compositions here that absolutely slay. The overall concept seems be something along the lines of “look, this isn’t just a superstar session, we’re a more-or-less fulltime band,” and they reaffirm that many times over.
The album kicks off with Believe, For It Is True, a Harper joint that juxtaposes a rather stern, stark modal piano melody with brighter, genial solos by the composer and then Weiss. It’s a good way to start the album. Temptation(s), by McBee, is a total knockout. From a similarly stark opening, the ensemble rises to an artfully layered, lush vintage 50s (think Miles and Gil) arrangement that fleshes out McBee’s bass riffage. Henderson alternates between warily soulful and swirly, McBee adds rhythmic insistence, then Cables gets nocturnal with the bass and drums and they they’re up and out. Wow!
Ebony Moonbeams, by Cables, is even plusher. Rhythms are hinted at and then Hart subtly establishes the clave, Henderson spirals and splatters, Cables takes the hook to Plaintiveville, Handy scurries over it and then Cables returns with an understated majestic intensity as the rhythm pulls away from the center. The lone cover is Wayne Shorter’s Free for All, moving matter-of-factly from tense restraint to unleashed modal menace. With a judiciously gleeful slasher attack, Hart absolutely owns this one, Henderson bringing in the evening sun for a moment before Handy and Cables join forces and take it into noir territory, all the way through a Hart solo where he somehow never loses the center, with a final mean drum roll to cap it off. Quest, another Harper tune, cleverly develops a wry martial New Orleans “charge” riff into more of the noir stuff, Hart again in richly colorist mode, Cables turning in what’s arguably the most chillingly exhilarating of all the solos here as he swings it with a dark flamenco tinge.
Will there be any respite? Maybe. But He Knows, a jazz waltz by Cables hints at a more carefree atmosphere, but beginning with Henderson’s purist, bluesy muted solo followed upwards by Handy, the shadows grow behind them; by the time they get to the piano solo, Cables can’t pull them back from watching the abyss. Tight Squeeze, by McBee, is exactly that, all suspense and understated chills: Harper broods, Weiss contemplates, Hart amps the mystery up to ten, works a couple of false endings and then lets McBee and Cables join in a surrealistic bounce. The final track, Naaj, a Hart composition, works permutations on a carnavalesque piano motif. Blast this in the car or after a bad day at work, share it with the friends whose lives you want to enrich the most, and if there’s someone very bright and intense that you want to seduce, this might do the trick. Watch for it on the list of best jazz albums of 2012 here in December if we make it that far.
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