The Cookers: Cast the First Stone

This band takes its name from The Night of the Cookers, the 1965 Blue Note live set recorded by trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. On this second release, Blue Note values prevail: hard-driving rhythms; soulful solos; exuberant ensemble work; a feeling that jazz is a serious, meaningful calling but also fun. The cast includes ’60s- and ’70s-era veterans Billy Harper (tenor saxophone), Eddie Henderson (trumpet), George Cables (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Billy Hart (drums) plus younger members David Weiss (trumpet) and Craig Handy (alto saxophone). Azar Lawrence (tenor and soprano saxophone) guests on four tracks.

The title cut, by Harper, opens the album. The composer’s raw, impassioned lead and the ensemble’s intense, jabbing responses quickly indicate that this is a special session. A slower section expands the horn harmony, and there’s that old revered Blue Note sound hitting you in your head-to-heart circuitry. Two other Harper compositions, “The Seventh Day” and “Croquet Ballet,” appear later in the program. Harper’s spirituality as a player and writer is galvanizing.

Other cuts include McBee’s “Peacemaker,” Cables’ “Looking for the Light” and “Think on Me,” and Harold Mabern’s “The Chief.” There’s not a lackluster solo on the album, and McBee and Hart ably hold the group together while also accentuating and inspiring the soloists. Cables’ fluid runs and springy beat counterbalance the heavier steps of his rhythm mates. In the solo department, Weiss is more Hubbard (as heard on “The Seventh Day”) and Henderson more Miles Davis (“Peacemaker”). Handy and Lawrence cook as well. Simply put, this album speaks the real gospel of jazz.