If ever there was a contest to choose a poster boy for "it's not over 'till it's over," Mort Weiss would be a strong contender. At 66 years of age, he picked up his clarinet again and entered a musical renaissance, resuming a jazz career he had set aside in 1965 at the age of 30. He had hit a wall then, standing in a padded cell in a downtown Los Angeles police building as the payoff for his friendship with alcohol and drugs. Scared straight, he packed up the clarinet and while it lay silent he got into the business of running a music store and raising a family. But at age 66, on a whim inspired by a local community college's notice they were auditioning for a new jazz ensemble, he dusted off the clarinet and started practicing...and then recording...and hasn't looked back since.
This is the seventh CD of his renaissance, recorded on his 73rd birthday. You wouldn't guess his age by his sound; he's a bebop clarinetist and the notes are flying. Maybe they've just been accumulating for all those years in that clarinet case...or Weiss just knows he has a lot of catching up to do. He has much to say and he doesn't have another 36 years to get it all said, so he has to pack a lot into each tune.
One of the fascinating things about this record is how comfortable Weiss is in playing all of these tunes without the safety net of a full rhythm section. It's just him and guitarist Ron Eschete'; to make this work they both have to have an impeccable sense of time, an inner harmonic anchor and an unwavering openness to listening to each other. They not only pull it off, they make it sound natural and effortless and all you notice is great jazz music--exactly as it should be.
The song choices are entirely jazz standards, from the opening Charlie Parker chestnut "Scrapple From The Apple" to Antonio Carlos Jobim's "No More Blues" as the closer. Highlights include "Blue Monk" on which Weiss & Eschete' establish a lovely swinging groove and Eschete' dazzles by integrating some walking bass lines along with comping on his seven string guitar; and the lovely Mandel/Mercer ballad "Emily," dripping with warmth from both players.
In recent decades the clarinet has mostly been overshadowed by its saxophone cousins in jazz music, despite its former glory during the big-band era with the popular fame of clarinetists Bennie Goodman, Woodie Herman, and Artie Shaw. It is delightful to hear clarinet jazz again in Weiss's capable hands.