Michael Weiss, Soul Journey (Sintra). Michael Weiss has been a pianist to follow since his impressive 1986 debut recording, Presenting Michael Weiss. As his career rolled out in work with Art Farmer, Johnny Griffin, Lou Donaldson, Tom Harrell and other major leaguers, Weiss's talent as a composer became increasingly apparent. His writing received high-profile recognition when he won the 2000 BMI/Monk Institute Composers Competition grand prize for El Camino." That is one of the pieces in Weiss's Soul Journey CD, which came out in 2003 but escaped my notice until a few weeks ago. Recorded with a band of youngish modern all-stars, Soul Journey is one of those rare latterday albums made up of original compositions during which I do not wish for the relief of standard material. Weiss's writing, like his piano playing, has roots in the bebop tradition. He seasons both with the spice of recent developments and the variety of his finely attuned ear and imagination.
El Camino" and La Ventana" have strong Latin undercurrents. Orient Express" draws on elements of John Coltrane's Countdown." Cheshire Cat" incorporates tricky time changes, challenging listeners without confusing them. Soul Journey" makes use of atmospheric harmonic and rhythmic elements and a Fender Rhodes piano that suggest familiarity with Herbie Hancock's crossoeuvre. On acoustic piano, Weiss folds inspiration from Bud Powell, Barry Harris and Tommy Flanagan into a thoughtful personal style that occasionally fizzes with exuberance, even whimsy. The sidemen interpreting Weiss's pieces are among the best of their generation -- Ryan Kisor, an unfailingly impressive trumpet soloist of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, a star of Maria Schneider's orchestra; the Art Blakey veteran Steve Davis, a trombonist who exults in taking harmonic chances; bassist Paul Gill and drummer Joe Farnsworth, rhythm stalwarts of the New York scene.
My only disappointment with the CD is the engineered fade ending on the title tune. Surely, a composer of Weiss's acuity could write his way to a conclusion. It is a tiny defect in a successful collection.
Ryan Kisor, Conception: Cool and Hot (Birds). Kisor is less well known than several trumpet and flugelhorn players who are his contemporaries but not his creative equals. On any given night, he is likely to take solo honors from the other trumpeters in the LCJO -- all of the others. In his initial CD for a new Japanese label, Kisor's front line partner is alto saxophonist Sherman Irby, another Lincoln Center member. On Gerry Mulligan's Line For Lyons," Irby's entertaining solo, an exercise in self-conscious pointillism, contrasts dramatically with Kisor's relaxed flugelhorn choruses. In Lyons," Kisor somehow manages at once to suggest and avoid Chet Baker. Nor does he literally appropriate Miles Davis in Conception," although it may impossible for any trumpeter not to allude to Davis in pieces so firmly associated with him as Conception" and J.J. Johnson's Enigma. The title tune, full of scalar hills and dales adroitly negotiated by the horns, is Kisor's only original composition here.
For the rest, he plays jazz classics and standards. Irby's Cannonball Adderley verve on You Stepped Out of a Dream" is a high point. Wisely, Kisor follows Irby by opening his solo with long tones, then rebuilding the excitement. Pianist Peter Zak's touch commands attention in his solo on this piece. On I Remember You," Kisor uses what sounds like a straight mute, all but disappeared in modern jazz. He solos with intimacy, then intricacy worthy of Dizzy Gillespie. All the Things You Are" gets standard, but by no means routine, treatment. Kisor is a bit more distant from the microphone on this track, his sound thinner than on the other pieces, but his strong conception influences the tack of Irby's solo. There's a good deal of listening to one another among the musicians in this satisfying set. The rhythm section is bassist John Webber, drummer Willie Jones III and Zak, a young pianist to keep your ear on.
The $27.00 price tag from Eastwind Imports seems high, but not in comparison with the $47.98 that Amazon.com is asking. You could buy almost a full tank of gas for that.
To see and hear Kisor featured with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, go here.
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