It’s entirely appropriate that one of Michael Weiss’ signature compositions is titled “Apres Vous,” as the pianist has mostly made a name for himself as a sideman with many jazz luminaries. He’s backed Art Farmer, George Coleman, Benny Golson, Junior Cook, and Slide Hampton; most notably, he spent more than a decade backing the great saxophonist Johnny Griffin. In addition, he used to play with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.
These tenures have given Weiss a sophisticated approach to the millennial-era hard-bop piano. He’s neither a revivalist nor a classicist, but rather a virtuoso who continues to dive into harmonic textures and melodic structures in search of beauty and surprise. On Persistence, a concise, eight-track program of originals and standards, he finds plenty. His stellar band includes saxophonist Eric Alexander, another player more often heard as a sideman than a leader, plus bassist Paul Gill and drummer Pete Van Nostrand.
The band’s rapport highlights the title track, a convivial, up-tempo piece that never feels rushed. It’s especially evident in Alexander’s solo as Weiss alternately pushes and lays back in his accompaniment and Van Nostrand adds catchy rhythmic flourishes. It sounds like an insightful roundtable discussion with instruments doing the talking. During their sprightly and nimble take on “Apres Vous,” the solos stand out, especially Weiss’ richly textured improvisations and Alexander’s fervent, blustery licks. The quartet turns Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” into a jaunty, gleeful mid-tempo romp. They also scale the mountain that is Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy,” putting their own assertive stamp on it with Alexander’s pithy lines and the leader’s elegant flourishes headlining the accomplishment. Weiss and his bandmates demonstrate that although he doesn’t record as a leader often, he makes these outings count.