Hard bop for a new age at Ronnie's

The Cookers - WarriorsThe Cookers at Ronnie Scott's, 22 February 2012

Their music felt timeless in its spirit and energy, which makes it all the more anomalous that this group of legendary musicians is still in its infancy - their debut CD was released in 2010. Their name was inspired by the late, great Freddie Hubbard and his 1965 album The Night Of The Cookers: Live At Club La Marchal.

Fellow-trumpeter and bandleader David Weiss has assembled a stellar line-up featuring Eddie Henderson, Billy Harper, Craig Handy, George Cables, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart. Their eagerly anticipated UK dates produced a beautifully constructed performance of over two and a half hours of sustained, pulsating and high-octane hard bop. There is a natural chemistry in their ensemble playing which maximises all of the prodigious individual talents on show.

Billy Harper's Capra Black set the tone. First recorded with Lee Morgan, it began with an explosive Harper tenor solo followed by responses from Weiss and Cables' fluid piano. Peacemaker, Cecil McBee's composition, featured the distinctive bassist of Charles Lloyd Quartet fame, reflective lyricism from Handy on alto saxophone, and a soaring, staccato-infused solo from Henderson, whose inimitable sound was a call-sign of Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi Sextet - the trumpeter has never sounded better.

Croquet Ballet, another Harper tune originally recorded with Morgan, showcased Harper, Henderson, Handy and Cables solos intercut with ensemble refrains, the horns playing off one another in unison before paring each phrase down towards an ending on a single note – improvisation on the high-wire.

The Core, a Hubbard tune and  acronym for the Congress of Racial Equality whose work he so admired, first appeared on the Jazz Messengers' 1964 Free For All album. All the soloists were featured including Cables, whose inventive phrasing periodically echoed McCoy Tyner's embroideries on melody and time signature. Billy Hart's drumming provided the regular heartbeat to propel the virtuosos, before taking centre stage with an extended solo of controlled ferocity interlaced with bright accents of light and shade.

It was time for a pause with the audience wondering if there was more in the band's locker.

If anything, the second set surpassed the first, with outings for material currently being honed for a forthcoming CD. Harper's Believe, For It Is True featured Harper, Weiss and Handy solos. Then it was a George Cables tune, Ebony Moonbeams, which featured on Hubbard's 1974 High Energy. There was another Henderson powerhouse solo, answered by Harper then Handy, who now switched to flute, before leaving the stand to a Brazilian bossa-nova-inflected Cables solo.

They closed with a Harold Mabern Jr. favourite, The Chief: more rip-roaring exchanges between tenor and alto, then a Weiss/Hart duet, climaxing in a second Hart solo, its contrasting focus on the full repertoire of tom-tom timbre and tonality. On a night of such musical exuberance, one audience remark caught the mood: "It's great to have the old Ronnie's [Scott's] back!" You couldn't argue with that.

Francis Graham-Dixon, February 2012

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