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The Cookers: The Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart

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Hard bop, soul jazz and postbop are the domain of the Cookers. Few bands perform their chosen variety of jazz with as much style, integrity and vigor as this group featuring five under-celebrated veteran players-tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart-plus trumpeter David Weiss, who organized the ensemble, and alto saxophonist Donald Harrison.

The two-sax, two-trumpet frontline is a force to be reckoned with on these eight originals penned by band members, including pieces that sprawl past the eight-minute mark. The sole composition making its first appearance on this disc is McBee’s “Third Phase.” Its relaxed tempo supports conversational starting-stopping unison and harmony horn lines that travel in some surprising directions, and exploratory solo turns by Henderson, Harrison and the bassist.

The album benefits from an abundance of inspiration and intrigue, beginning with Harper’s 11-minute title track. It opens with creative interplay between the tenorman and the band, then segues into an extended solo-piano interlude before the piece begins in earnest, later opening up for solos by Harper, Weiss and Cables. Harper also contributes the affecting ballad “If One Could Only See” and the nearly 13-minute closer, “Thy Will Be Done,” which builds from a prayerful section into a midtempo groove showcasing Harper’s every-part-of-the-horn approach to soloing.

Cables provides the pulsing “Blackfoot,” referencing Native American influences, and “Beyond Forever,” while Hart supplies the free-minded, minor-tinted “Teule’s Redemption” and “Oceans of Time.” Always swinging, sometimes bluesy, frequently fierce, all artfully arranged-the rootsy tunes on the Cookers’ fifth release leave us with high expectations for No. 6.

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Originally Published