Review: The Cookers at Turner Sims

The Cookers at Turner Sims in Southampton played hard bop mixed with tender and reflective moments, much to Michael Tucker's delight

The Cookers' appearance at Chelsea's Cadogan Hall as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival saw them confined to one set as they shared the bill with the Chico Freeman Quartet. The night before, the audience at Southampton's Turner Sims Hall was treated to two full and excellent sets from post-Coltrane hard boppers Billy Harper (ts), Craig Handy (as), Eddie Henderson (t), David Weiss (t), Danny Grissett (p), Cecil McBee (b) and Billy Hart (d).

Unusually for the Turner Sims, the evening began late, with the band not on stage until 8.15 and taking a little while to settle into position. The audience was a touch restless. “You're late!” was one wag's response to leader Weiss's would-be emollient “How are you all tonight?” But the minute the music started, kicking into a Harper-led, uptempo modal groove stoked by the excellent Hart, the mood changed and by the end of the evening, many in the (reasonably filled) hall were on their feet baying for more.

Way back in the 1970s, Harper cut the classic albums Capra Black and Black Saint and much of this music had the same blend of steely, post-Coltrane technical authority and spiritual conviction. Born in Houston in 1943, the six-foot plus Harper looked and sounded in terrific shape. He brought an avant-garde intensity to the idea of Texan tenor, his big sound often serving the sort of challenging, complex lines one expects from a man whose CV includes work with Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Mel Lewis and Max Roach. But that CV also includes some memorable moments of questing lyricism with Gil Evans, as on the 1973 Svengali album, and there was plenty of such fare here.

The title of Harper's original The Call Of The Wild And Peaceful Heart summed up the many pleasures on offer: if the concluding piece of the hour-long first set – Freddie Hubbard's The Corner – epitomised the Blakey-like “take no prisoners” aspect of the music, ending with an extensive, multi-layered solo from Hart, there were also tender and reflective moments on characterful ballad originals like Harper's If We Could Only See and McBee's lovely Peacemaker, with both Henderson and Weiss in fine lyrical fettle.

Born in 1975, Grissett (who has worked with, among others, Nicholas Payton and Tom Harrell) was the youngest in the group by a decade or so. His thoughtful touch and elegant lines always seemed to carry a pleasingly archetypal flavour or implication of the blues, the blend of intelligence and feeling in his work reminiscent of Sonny Clark as much as Herbie Hancock. In the (shorter) second set, he and Craig Handy – who was depping for the unavailable Donald Harrison, and who throughout played with commanding, tempered muscularity, sometimes in the extreme upper registers – shone on a medium-groove McBee blues of unusual construction.

A mere 40 years older than Grissett, McBee contributed one mellow pizzicato line after another, gelling beautifully with Hart - another seemingly ageless veteran whose loose-limbed yet incisive, cross-phrased yet deeply swinging figures and dynamic authority had a snap-crackle (thank you, Mr Haynes) all their own. Tremendous stuff.

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