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Violins have been part of jazz since the early New Orleans days. But while string sections and hot violin soloists have been used on jazz recordings since the 1920s, the idea of a soloist joined by strings did not become popular until Charlie Parker’s Bird With Strings recordings of 1949-50. Since then, it has been the goal of many jazz soloists to someday be featured soaring above a string section.
Cory Weeds is a rather busy fellow. He plays gigs on tenor sax, runs the Cellar Music and Cellar Live labels, releases previously unheard sessions on the Reel to Real imprint, and formerly ran Vancouver’s Cellar Jazz Club. His constant whirlwind of activity never seems to slow down, even during the pandemic.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I77Xtc8XI6U What Is There To Say? features Weeds with strings. Phil Dwyer, who is also quite a skilled tenor saxophonist, is heard on piano and provides the arrangements for the 13 strings. Tempos range from slow ballads to medium pace, and repertoire consists of obscurities, including Duke Pearson’s “The Phantom,” which is played in a medley with “The In Crowd”; a few standards (“I Wish You Love,” “There’s a Boat Leavin’ Soon for New York” and the title cut); and three Weeds originals, of which “Love Is Wild” is particularly memorable.
Weeds plays melodically throughout, often sticking close to the themes. I wish that he would have replaced some of his impeccable good taste with a few more adventurous moments, but he displays a pleasing tone and does justice to the melodies. Dwyer gets a fair number of short solos, and his playing consistently uplifts the music. Most importantly, Dwyer’s string arrangements never become syrupy or too predictable, adding not only to the sound of the ensembles but inspiring the lead voices as well as the supportive team of bassist John Lee and drummer Jesse Cahill. It all works well. — Scott Yanow