Jazz Supergroup The Cookers (Harper, Hart, Harrison, Henderson, Cables, McBee, Weiss) Sizzle Again on ‘Look Out!’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Jazz royalty bleeds all over this esteemed septet who deliver their sixth album with Look Out! On the UK’s Gearbox label. The seven members are today’s essence of hard bop with unmatched legacies. Two of its members, Billy Hart and Donald Harrison, have been dubbed 2022 NEA Jazz Masters. In step with tradition, it seems only appropriate that the recording took place at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio. Originally brought together for an all-star tribute show to Freddie Hubbard, the group launched their first recording, Warriors, in 2010 on followed with four more on a series of different labels. But, before going further, just salivate at the histories these giants carry; and all have discographies much longer than what is briefly mentioned below:

Billy Harper (sax) – member of Lee Morgan’s group, Max Roach’s Quartet, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, McCoy Tyner, Randy Weston as well as recordings with Louis Armstrong and Gil Evans
Billy Hart (drums) – member of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi group and recorded with Stan Getz and Charles Lloyd
Eddie Henderson (trumpet) – Protege of Miles Davis, recorded with Benny Golson and McCoy Tyner, member of Mwandishi
Cecil McBee (bass) – member of Charles Lloyd’s band with Keith Jarrett, recorded with Wayne Shorter, Abdullah Ibrahim, Art Pepper, Benny Golson, Wynton Marsalis
George Cables (piano) – held down the piano chair for groups led by Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper
David Weiss (trumpet) (producer and arranger) – member of Freddie Hubbard’s band and recorded with Charles Tolliver
Donald Harrison (sax) – played with Miles Davis, Ron Carter, Notorious BIG, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Esperanza Spalding, Dr. John, and Herbie Hancock

In one clear sense these are modern day messengers (note that four of them played with Art Blakey), carrying the tradition forward, torchbearers for those halcyon days of not only the Blue Note period in the ‘60s but the visionary labels such as Strata-East, Contemporary, and India Navigation that delivered so much inventive music in the ‘70s.  They march on with seven selections here, all previously recorded in different configurations.  George Cables’ burner “The Mystery of Monifa Brown,” kicks off with rollicking solos from Harrison, Weiss, and the composer. It first appeared on the composer’s 2016 The George Cables Songbook. It’s the first of three Cables contributions, all originally recorded in the 2016 offering. The mid-tempo, slinky “AKA Reggie” gets deeply soulful with solos from Harrison and the pianist. “Traveling Lady” features both again as well as trumpeter Henderson, who, for one who typically favors ballads, is on fire for this up-tempo track.  We can focus on the energy and passion in these solos, but much of the beauty of the album lies in the ensemble parts as Weiss astutely captures the harmonic nuances. It’s not often that one finds a front line of two saxophonists and two trumpeters. 

Billy Harper penned “Destiny Is Yours” and “Somalia,” both of which date to the early’90s. The first is a mid-tempo groover with Harper blowing aggressively to the solid rhythms of Hart and McBee as Cable comps behind his and then Weiss’s high flying statement before taking his own effervescent turn. The African chants and grooves of the explosive “Somalia” remind of Harper’s presence on the stellar Randy Weston albums, Tanjah and Spirits of Our Ancestors. Joining him for equally blistering takes are Weiss and Cables. Among the seven great cuts, it’s by far the edgiest.

Cecil McBee weighs in with two of his own. His “Cat’s Out of the Bag” is a hard bopper with expressive declarations from Harrison, Henderson and Cables while the closer, “Mutima” features more fire from Henderson and Harper. It’s as if every solo on the disc is delivered such that each says his piece succinctly and emphatically without wearing out the welcome. 

Describing his bandmates that were in The Messengers, Cables says, “In The Messengers those were young guys honing their craft and asserting themselves. We on the other hand, although young in spirit, are older and more seasoned. That doesn’t mean complacency in any way. This is a high energy, take no prisoners band…”  Take his word for it. You won’t find a ‘hotter’ jazz band than The Cookers.

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