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The Cookers: Time and Time Again

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For their fourth release, the Cookers have swapped out saxophonist Craig Handy for Donald Harrison, raising the median age of the septet to just under 70. All of that longevity doesn’t mean complacency, however: The 69-year-old pianist George Cables, septuagenarians Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Billy Harper (tenor saxophone), Cecil McBee (bass) and Billy Hart (drums) and the Cookers’ two youngsters, Harrison (54) and trumpeter David Weiss (49) may bring well-defined personal styles to this ongoing project, but there’s nothing retro about them. The Cookers cook, all right, and if anything they’ve become even more assured, skillful and single-minded with each new offering.

Each of the nine tracks on Time and Time Again was composed by a single member of the group-all but Harrison and Henderson contribute-and while such hopscotching of sources might in lesser hands result in a scattered program, there’s an unyielding unity pervading this recording. Harper’s opening “Sir Galahad” is an oldie, going back to his 1973 leader debut, Capra Black, which also featured Cables. The new arrangement, one of three tracks on the album arranged by Harper, is brighter, fuller and less wistful, easily identifiable as a 21st-century jam despite its pedigree. Of the five tracks arranged by Weiss, McBee’s two entries, the alternately lumbering and frenetic blues “Slippin’ and Slidin'” (no relation to the Little Richard hit) and the sprawling “Dance of the Invisible Nymph” are particularly praiseworthy.

Typically, each number allows solo turns by three or four of the musicians, but it’s Cables’ “Farewell Mulgrew,” in which only his piano gets the spotlight, that provides so much of the album’s emotion. It’s a fitting tribute and a loving evocation.

Originally Published