David Weiss and his band Point of Departure played two sets at the Jazz Standard in March of 2008. The first set was released last year as Snuck In. It’s the second set’s turn now, logically named Snuck Out. Both of these albums end with the same tune, “Snuck In.” Even the cover photograph, with the exception of the background color, remains intact. It’s a coin’s flipside, pure and simple. And if you go out to see live jazz on a regular basis, then you know that the second set of the night usually outshines the first one. They shake out the bugs, get up, walk around, grab a few drinks and mingle, then take to the stage again. This loosening up opens even more lines of communications between players, a necessary part of group improvisation. Trumpeter David Weiss has made it clear that he wants his band to evenly mix composition and improvisation, to the point where the listener gladly doesn’t know where one ends and the other begins.
The band is named after Andrew Hill’s 1964 landmark album, a point in time when the Blue Note label had more than an embarrassment of riches. We’re talking about a highly influential time in jazz and very influential album within that time (If I recall correctly, Nels Cline covered a few songs from Point of Departure and even copped the part of the cover art for his own New Monestary). The way that Hill, Eric Dolphy, Joe Henderson, Richard Davis, Kenny Dorham, and Tony Williams tended their canvases is a high class collision of old school dignity with odd meters and blank stretches on the charts. Who wouldn’t want to emulate that time, at least in some way? So here come Weiss, saxophonist J.D. Allen, guitarist Nir Felder, bassist Matt Clohesy, and drummer Jamire Williams taking you back to that pivotal decade where all things “cool” enjoyed their moment in the sun before the summer of love came along. Shut your eyes and you can almost see the old Lee Friedlander photographs.
Jamire Williams’ approach goes a long way to securing this association. His delicate cymbal taps and gentle tom rolls are a special treat just by themselves, shifting the tempo from standard to waltz and back in unbelievable subtlety. Nir Felder’s slightest touch of reverb is able to help anchor Clohesy’s sound, not to mention the rapid arpeggios that get picked off like child’s play. “Gravity Point,” one of two Charles Moore tunes from the set, brings you all of these qualities, yet J.D. Allen still remains the economical soloist that he has been (I reviewed Victory! earlier this year). You’d think he’d allow himself to go nuts on a Wayne Shorter number, here in the form of “Paraphernalia,” but he still lays out long stretches of space that’s likely designed to double his impact. Through it all, Weiss himself is a boisterous if unrefined soloist, almost overly eager to stamp his voice onto old standards. Despite this, the most easygoing song here is the one Weiss original, “Hidden Meanings.”
Snuck Out has much going for it. It swings; it soothes; and it has intricacies that would appeal to listeners who are musicians themselves. But it falls short of being essential, possibly because it has the feel of an exercise in obscure covers and paying homage to a specific era. Weiss and Point of Departure are a class act all the way, but this live album feels more like an arrow pointing to something else than an actual statement of purpose.