With audiences for straight-ahead jazz dwindling, big-name artists are increasingly banding together to form all-star units like the SFJAZZ Collective and The Cookers. Even if these situations limit sideman opportunities for up-and-coming players, such bands of like-minded heavyweight veterans practically guarantee that the music they create will be nothing short of world-class.
Composed of trumpeters Eddie Henderson and David Weiss, alto saxophonist Craig Handy, tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Billy Hart, The Cookers borrow their name and instrumentation from Night of the Cookers, Freddie Hubbard's classic two-volume 1965 recordings for Blue Note. The present septet takes a similar post-bop, pre-fusion, high-energy approach with its repertoire. Believe, the group's third CD, features compositions by Cables, Harper, Hart, and McBee, along with an intensely boiling treatment of Wayne Shorter's "Free for All," the title track of one of Art Blakey's greatest Blue Note albums. Ensemble passages are tightly rendered throughout, but fireworks really fly during improvised solo passages by each of the players, particularly when Harper's molten-toned Texas tenor is bolstered by Hart's kicking drums.
Handy hails from Berkeley and preceded Joshua Redman in the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble. Henderson and Cables were once highly valued participants in the Bay Area jazz scene. Those three's Yoshi's gig this week with The Cookers is a most welcome homecoming. (Motema)