David Weiss has been making a name for himself as a trumpeter and composer-arranger, and in the former capacity he has of late taken part in commemorations of the late Booker Little. Such commemorations are invaluable given both the improvised nature of so much of jazz and the need for improvisers to hear things in detail.
The music was dependent on lots and lots of musicians being familiar with each other, even having worked together. It’s not so difficult for an expert technician who has heard few considerable musicians to wind up producing what could well be taken for an imitation of one of the elders, sounding very similar but lacking something. The really original business is to know enough—and have heard people enough—that there’s no sounding like a mechanical imitation of anybody else. Some younger players sound like earlier ones, now and then and in parts and at times, and why not as long as their objectives are music and not imitation. Late in his career Dizzy Gillespie could at times sound in some respects as he does on his first, late 1930s recordings, when he sounded very like his mentor Roy Eldridge.
I’ll not put anybody else’s name to the roundedness of David Weiss’s tone, a very nice aspect of what’s a flexible sound: full without being huge, and with none of the neurotic dryness and sourness with which some failures to imitate Miles Davis identify themselves. Unworthy imitators make their own individual noises.
There’s no extreme novelty here. Freddie Hubbard and Charles Tolliver are trumpet uncles; Horace Silver and Art Blakey band-leading ones. Andrei Tarkovsky is avowedly a spiritual one—the film buff can spot things beyond the opening track being called “Stalker”—but wherever it comes from and whatever outside of music this CD could be related to, it’s good of an exalted kind.
“Stalker” has its neat eccentricity. It opens ominously and features Weiss as one of those musicians who could survive settings of a much lower quality than his own. While the saxophonists—Myron Walden on alto and Marcus Strickland on tenor—affect some mannerisms and rough sournesses of tone like people long ago who had overdosed on Coltrane, the lines they improvise storm chord changes directly. The very good pianist Xavier Davis clings to neo-Tranean modal mannerisms for rather longer into his solo, but he picks up the key and proceeds with sparkle and melodic flair. The gloom with which the arrangement opened the performance resumes slightly deeper in the playout, and the contributions of the saxophonists pick up with the ugly sides of their sounds (here fairly similar one to the other) and wail with some ghoulishness. Whooo—oo—ooo…
“The Mirror”, whatever its intended cinematic reference, demonstrates Weiss’s gifts as a three-horn big band arranger. The solid sound echoes that of Dizzy Gillespie big bands and the composition has to it a little of roundabout midnight in Tunisia.
The arrangement of “Nostalghia” (film buffs can explain the spelling) opens with a trumpet-led unison, like a kind of big band ballad skirting dangers of sentimentality. It opens as a trumpet feature, Davis with Duane Burno on bass and E.J. Strickland on drums; notably cymbals imply something sumptuous in trio accompaniment. The other horns get a blow, and “Our Tip” (a composition of the pianist Kevin Hays) opens up with Walden playing a slightly fuzzy-edged blowsy alto, with a little of the jump style—Pete Brown, Bruce Turner—to its post-bebop. Jazz buffs will know the bestselling album whose performance by Messrs. Evans, Chambers, and Cobb the rhythm trio here emulates.
“The Sacrifice” is distinguished as ever by Weiss’s trumpet, though the arrangement is less distinctive that—or maybe too much the same thing as—what preceded it. Marcus Strickland has a more directly happy sound on tenor, soloing very well here.
The last two titles have a different ensemble, adding Steve Davis on trombone and Norbert Stachel on baritone sax and bass clarinet while replacing both Stricklands with Craig Handy’s outgoing tenor and the stunning performance of Nasheet Waits on drums. “Love Letter to One Not Yet Met” has a quote of “If I Loved You” in the trumpet intro but turns into something very close to the wonderfully dark “You Don’t Know What Love Is”. Xavier Davis phrases and shades beautifully individually on piano, emulating Weiss’s trumpet solo.
Wayne Shorter’s “Mr. Jin” in Weiss’s arrangement closes. The band has a big sound, blocks of heavy front line ensemble harmonisation. It takes outstanding rhythm section work to move something this massive, and Craig Handy’s tenor solo erupts in the middle of this puissant performance.
Weiss could probably achieve a lot even if he didn’t play trumpet. There was at least one attempt to persuade Dizzy Gillespie to quit the horn for the pencil, and I look forward to hearing him keep the banners swirling in all three capacities: the third being leader of bands like the sextet and octet here.