The Cookers is an apt moniker for a septet of all-star players who often worked as sidemen to the marquee names of the jazz world. The contributions of pianist George Cables, drummer Billy Hart, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, bassist Cecil McBee and tenor saxophonist Billy Harper have amounted to a centering force in jazz for more than half a century. They’re joined on the frontline by “junior members” Donald Harrison and David Weiss, on alto sax and trumpet, aged 61 and 57, respectively.
In aggregate, they have much to say and much to offer, with cooking as their collective goal. Look Out!
is album six for a band born 11 years ago, serving as both a fresh blast of energy and a reminder of these veteran players’ gifts.
Weiss draws on his considerable arranger-producer skills to pull the various voices and compositional imprints together into a cohesive, cooking package. All is not slick: Rough edges are apparent — in intonation and some less-than-tight scored lines — and Cables’ piano sometimes seems buried in the mix. However, the live, unfussy feel of the session conveys a gritty honesty in an age of over-polished, over-thought musical surfaces and Pro Tooled exactitude, which can deprive jazz of its livewire vibrance.
The Cookers’ songbook, here comprising older pieces from each artist’s catalog, includes jewel-like tunes with hard-bopping and often triple-meter qualities. With its intricate structural blend, Cables’ opener, “The Mystery of Monifa Brown,” spotlights the band’s prowess, while the pianist’s supple ballad “Aka Reggie” goes down with silken ease.
Occupying its own corner of the song-set, Harper’s “Somalia” brims with African-infused flavors, washes of chant and an odd metric design somehow both sophisticated and fluid in this band’s hands. It can be counted as a compound meter or folded into 4/4, just as the band itself keeps head and heart — and history — in check.