New Jazz Composers Octet: First Steps Into Reality

David Weiss, nominal leader of this date, is reminiscent of Don Sickler. A skilled arranger, transcriber and all-round coordinator, Weiss also brings righteous trumpet chops to this potent mix. Were it not for the liner notes, Weiss’ leadership would not be particularly evident, as this session (recorded over several months in ’97 and ’98) comes off as a cooperative effort among a group of exceptional thirtysomething musicians. The glue is the solid rhythm team of drummer Nasheet Waits, bassist Dwayne Burno and pianist Xavier Davis. They are enveloped in a hornucopia of Weiss, alto saxman Myron Walden, trombonist Andrew Williams, tenorist Gregory Tardy and the late baritone saxophonist James Farnsworth. Jimmy Greene and Dave Riekenberg spell the latter two on three tracks.

Right from the jump there’s a hint of Mingus flavor in their crisp, little big band horn harmonies as they swing through the gate on Davis’ title track. With all their tools and composers (Davis brought three tunes, Walden two, Burno and Weiss one each, and Weiss laid a fresh coat of paint on Freddie Hubbard’s “D Minor Mint”), they steadfastly avoid head-solos-head monotony, often blowing burnished harmonies behind a soloist, massed horns turning up at unexpected junctures of a given piece. Their sense of architecture, a la the classic structure of Weiss’ “Tribute to the Elders,” also merits kudos.