Ezra Weiss’ Path to This Moment Finally Arrives
Ezra Weiss’ big band compositions build on simple melodies and riffs fleshed out with terse polyphony: clear, focused, direct, intuitive and brightly acccessible, Jim McNeely-esque with lots of dynamics. Weiss also has a love of false endings: his new album with the Rob Scheps Big Band, Our Path to This Moment, is full of them. The charts are artful, the rhythmic shifts subtle and impactful. While this group doesn’t try to blow you away like the Mingus bands or Orrin Evans’ Captain Black monstrosity, they make a perfectly apt, tight and cohesive fit with Weiss’ attractive tunesmithing.
The title track, which opens the album, is a carefully constructed trip up the staircase – a long one – with guest trumpeter Greg Gisbert maintaining the casual lushness with his solo, followed by Scheps elevating along with the band on soprano sax. After such a methodical climb, the trick endings are almost too much, but the band has a ball with them, particularly the one that sounds like it finally is the real deal. The aptly titled Rise and Fall balances lushness with subtlety, a series of swells and ebbs, hints of a jaz waltz, Gisbert and baritone saxophonist Robert Crowell engaging in some lively bantering – again, the way they end it is counterintuitively fun. Their version of Jule Styne’s It’s You or No One edges thisclose to schmaltz until they hit Weiss’s boisterous samba bounce, Paul Mazzio’s jovially syncopated trumpet solo and then a tasty call-and-response from the highs and lows capping it off.
Kunlangeta is another rise-and-fall number, an ensemble piece replete with rhythmic shifts, a casual Tom Hill trombone solo that goes unexpectedly pensive and more of those “Are we done yet? No!” moments that Weiss love so much. They follow that with the album’s lone ballad, The Promise, altoist David Valdez moving smartly from wistful to animated and back, pianist Ramsey Embick adding a tasteful bluesiness before a meaty series of triplet-fueled crescendos.
Jessie’s Song offers suspenseful lushness that picks up with a joyous latin-inflected gallop behind Scott Hall’s warmly syncopated tenor solo. The album winds up with a richly imaginative arrangement of Wayfaring Stranger: Gisbert kicks it off solo, haunting and desolate before the whole ensemble comes in, riding a dark chromatic riff like it’s their only chance to get out. Neat touches abound: the swirly tenor sax lead-in to Gisbert’s bop-infused first solo; Scheps’ sudden leap from casual to frenetic; and Gisbert winding up his last solo with a casually vicious flurry of chromatics before the whole crew bring it up and blast memorably through a final couple of verses. Props to the rest of the band for pulling it off: Gary Harris and Scott Hall on saxes; Rich Cooper, Greg Garrett and Conte Bennett on trumpets; Stan Bock and John Moak on trombones; Ja’Tik Clark on tuba; Tim Gilson on bass, Ward Griffiths on drums and Chaz Mortimer on percussion.
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