Mort Weiss: Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe

First, the good news: After a 40-year hiatus, clarinetist Mort Weiss returned to performing about a decade ago, and this new release finds him collaborating for the first time with L.A. keyboard giant Bill Cunliffe, with sympathetic support from bassist Chris Conner and drummer Roy McCurdy. Weiss and Cunliffe dazzle through bebop heaven (Miles Davis’ “The Theme,” Charlie Parker’s “Dewey Square”) and songbook hits (“What Is This Thing Called Love?,” “My Ship,” “Who Can I Turn To,” “For Heaven’s Sake,” “Who Cares”), the clarinetist providing elastic runs and sweet balladry, Cunliffe equally articulate at any tempo. A few guests shine as well. Flutist Sam Most gilds three tracks, and the clarinet/flute duet on “Indian Summer” suggests two birds in happy dialogue. Guitarist Ron Escheté sweetens “If I Should Lose You,” while jazz writer Scott Yanow takes his clarinet on a credible spin through “Sheik of Araby.”

So where does this otherwise effective set veer off course? Midway through, we’re suddenly plunged into spoken word, with Peter Marx providing what might work at a live gig as a hip reading of Jack Kerouac. Dropped like a bomb between Cole Porter and Kurt Weill, it feels like an errant outtake. The second misstep, equally out of sync with the 11-track whole, is the inclusion of an amateurish rock/pop interlude composed and performed by Mort’s grandsons, Anthony and Brent. Again, maybe it would have worked at a live gig-maybe not. These unfortunate moments aside, Mort Weiss reminds us that the clarinet is still viable-if too rare-in mainstream jazz.