The Cookers - Cast the First Stone (Plus Lion Music, 2011)
The Cookers is a collective unit primarily consisting of veteran musicians who came up in the wake of hard-bop and free jazz in the late 1960's and early 1970's. It's a pretty extraordinary unit, all things considered: Billy Harper on tenor saxophone; Eddie Henderson and David Weiss on trumpet, Craig Handy on alto saxophone, Azar Lawrence on tenor and soprano saxophones, George Cables on piano, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums.
The Cookers Cast the First Stone is unexpectedly polite hard-bop album in the old-school Blue Note/Prestige mold, where the music takes a nostalgic look back to the glory days of the Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers band, while occasionally shaking off the dust and making the music more than a busman's holiday. The music was consistently well played, how could it not be considering the talent involved, but I was hoping for more, it was almost like everybody was busy being so conscientious to each other that it leeched some of the energy out of the music.
I kept waiting and hoping for Billy Harper to blow everybody's doors off but that's not the case, even though several of his solos and compositions are featured. Mid-tempo teamwork and strict solo order is followed, and that is the order of the day here, pleasant listening to be sure, but lacking in that essential vitality that each of these musicians have brought to projects of their own and others.
That said, the first and final tunes Cast the First Stone" and The Chief" really hit paydirt with strong themes, scalding solos from Billy Harper (one of my all-time favorite musicians) along with the rest of the group. These were the true cookers that bookend what is otherwise a mid- tempo solo showcase.