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Ezra Weiss: The Five A.M. Strut

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Here is a very impressive debut recording by a young pianist based in Portland, Ore., a town that has developed a reasonably lively scene in recent times, in terms of talent if not opportunity. Ezra Weiss is helped greatly by his comrades-in-arms, who breathe life into a really exceptional program of originals. Though still in his early 20s, Weiss can already write convincingly in a wide range of moods and modes, from near-parodies like the title track or “The Clown Feature” to contemplative pieces like “A Time for Healing,” which isn’t exactly a ballad but asks for the same kind of interpretation from the soloists. If anything, his medium and uptempo tunes are even more satisfying. Weiss doesn’t just give us a serviceable line with nicely altered chords moving in a predictable progression. His writing is multifaceted, making use of intros, outros and other structural devices in ways that are always consistent with each composition’s nature. Some of the progressions are quite unobvious, but he also doesn’t mind going back to the blues format when it suits his needs. He is also a fine pianist in the prevailing post-Evans style. One suspects that it wasn’t always easy for the young composer to concentrate on his section duties while hearing how well his sidemen were getting into the music here. Hornmen Michael Philip Mossman, Antonio Hart and Kelly Roberge all do a great job, and bassist Leon Lee Dorsey and drummer Billy Hart are a dream rhythm team. This is not only a great first outing but also one of the more enjoyable recordings of the year. We can only hope that Weiss can keep the standard this high for many years to come.