David Weiss’ most important contributions to jazz have been the projects he conceives and coordinates. His latest undertaking is the Cookers, whose members have 250 years of collective experience and more than 1,000 recording credits. Weiss plays trumpet and Craig Handy plays alto saxophone and flute. Then there are five major but somewhat overlooked heavy hitters, best known from the 1960s and ’70s, who can still play their butts off: Billy Harper (tenor saxophone), Eddie Henderson (trumpet), George Cables (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Billy Hart (drums).
The Cookers is not a typical all-star group but a tight working band. They have been together since June 2007 and play 20 to 30 gigs a year. Warriors is their first recording. On the opening track, Freddie Hubbard’s “The Core,” the solos are fierce and keep coming. But even with all the solo firepower here, Warriors is not a blowing session. The other seven tracks, all originals by band members, include a ballad and two graceful, light-footed waltzes. Weiss’ arrangements, with their horn backgrounds and recurring themes, treat the septet like a little big band.
McBee’s “Close to You Alone,” like all the best ballads, balances emotional exposure with dignified reserve. It is a feature for Handy, whose tone on alto saxophone is luminous but too human to be entirely pure. He searches passionately through the song and the other horns come in quietly behind him to reinforce the crescendos.
Billy Harper’s “Capra Black” and “Priestess” are both dramatic anthems, with tumultuous solos from the composer. On “Capra Black” he announces himself with a guttural roar. Likewise, “Priestess” launches Harper like a slingshot: There is no tenor saxophonist in current jazz whose entrance can create such a jolt of adrenaline. (There was once one named Coltrane.)