Saturday, June 9, 2012

Firehouse Finale, Uncertainty On The Road and Cookers in the Capital

They may look a bit overdressed for the June temperatures here in the Northeast but Ellery Eskelin & Trio New York will be venturing to New Haven on Friday June 15.  Tenor saxophonist Eskelin, organist Gary Versace and drummer Gerald Cleaver (left to right in the picture) are the final concert in the Firehouse 12 Spring 2012 Series, performance 13 of 13 in a very busy and successful schedule.  TNY's self-titled CD, issued in 2011 on Eskelin's Prime Source label, is dedicated to the saxophonist's mother Bobbie Lee who played Hammond B-3 organ as a professional musician into the early 1960s.  The program consists of 5 long tracks, only one under 14 minutes ("Off Minor" clocks in at 13:34) and all are standards (perhaps pieces his mother played on her gigs.) Each piece stretches out to allow the Trio to go down many musical and sonic pathways, often referring to the melody as an abstraction.  The opening minutes of "Witchcraft" hint at the Cy Coleman melody while Eskelin and Versace move in and around each other.  Cleaver also toys with the melody as he playfully sketches various rhythmic ideas. As the track moves forward, Versace and Cleaver take the piece over and give it a "swing" groove. Eskelin reins in his harder tenor sound throughout but no more so than on the atmospheric and emotional first half of "How Deep Is The Ocean";  even when the song falls into a easy loping groove, the saxophonist caresses his phrases.  It's fun to hear Eskelin's tenor sax  riffing over the active drums, strong bass foot and organ fills on "Lover, Come Back To Me" - Cleaver's swing is solid, subtle and downright classy.

Trio New York plays 2 sets, 8:30 and 10 p.m. To find out more about Eskelin and company, go to his website at   Firehouse 12 is located at 45 Orange Street in New Haven - for ticket information, go to or call 203-785-0468.  The Fall 2012 season does not start until late September and won't be posted until late August at the earliest. Nick Lloyd, Carl Testa and the rest of the staff have a lot to be proud of and fans of creative music should thank them any chance they get.

Speaking of Carl Testa, his Uncertainty Music Series goes on a short hiatus so that he can "take his show on the road."  He's packing his acoustic bass and electronics as well as the Broadcloth trio (vocalist Annie Rhodes, accordionist Adam Matlock and cellist Nathan Bontrager) for an 8-shows-in-8 days jaunt that starts in Philadelphia on June 22.  Then, they'll perform on successive nights in Richmond, VA, Asheville, North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, Wilmington and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Baltimore, Maryland, and back to New Haven for a June 29th show at Intercambio, 756 Chapel Street. To find out more about the tour, the musicians and the music, go to and  Road warriors, indeed!

Also on Friday June 15, the Hartford Jazz Society welcomes The Cookers for a 7 p.m. show in the Polish National Home, 60 Charter Oak Avenue in Hartford. The Cookers, organized in 2007 by trumpeter-arranger David Weiss, is a septet that takes its name from the classic 1965 Freddie Hubbard Blue Note Lp "The Night of the Cookers", a live recording that also featured trumpeter Lee Morgan, saxophonist/flautist James Spaulding and pianist Harold Mabern, Jr.  Weiss's group includes 5 musicians who came to their musical maturity in the late 1960s and early 70s including Billy Harper (tenor saxophone), Eddie Henderson (trumpet), George Cables (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Billy Hart (drums) with 49-year old Craig Handy adding his alto saxophone to the mix.  The band has issued 3 Cds in 3 years, the latest being "Believe" just released on Motema Music (see below).  Don't go to see The Cookers expecting an evening of nostalgia - this music is not dated or cliched (even their ballads have power.) The interactions of the musicians is highly charged (Harper is a tenor player from the John Coltrane - he never takes a solo "off") and Hart really drives this band. Much of the band's repertoire comes from Harper, Cables and McBee which Weiss or Harper arranges for the septet.

 Opening for The Cookers will be the East Catholic High School Jazz East Big Band.  For ticket information, go to or call 860-242-6688. 

As for the septet's 3rd CD, it's a winner from the first note of Billy Harper's "Believe, For It Is True."  With the rhythmic feel of Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage", Harper's tune has a soulful melody with a bluesy twist and the composer builds his heart-felt yet fiery solo atop Hart's rampaging drums - all the while, Cables and McBee keep the rhythm steady.  What separates The Cookers from many groups is that there are few songs on which more than 3 people solo (McBee does not even take one) and, when they play the "heads" of the songs, they create a joyous noise (sounding much larger than 7 pieces.)  There are several moments where the music takes on a softer side, especially Cables' light-hearted "But He Knows."  Henderson's muted trumpet spot opens to Handy's short but sweet alto solo before the composer puts his sweet "swing" on the tune.  The one non-original, Wayne Shorter's "Free for All" (from the 1964 Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers), lives up to its name with fine solos from all save Weiss and McBee (Henderson truly turns it on for his spot as does Handy.)  

What is so fine about "Believe" is that there are no wasted notes or empty gestures, just music that reaches out to the listener's soul and feet (hard not to move one's body when these musicians hits their stride.)  This septet, so ably guided by David Weiss, knows that there are no do-overs, you have to go for it with every fiber of your being (very much in the fashion of Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and so many others.)  If you can't get to see them in person (go to for the band's itinerary), this CD will make you a believer.  For more information about the CD (which is officially on sale June 12), go to

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