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Straight No Chaser by Mark Weinstein

The flute has taken an interesting journey through jazz history. Initially excluded from jazz by virtue of both its relatively small sound and its reputation as a women's instrument more suited to classical stylings, the flute finally emerged as a legitimate jazz voice as the result of several factors -- the development of the microphone, the decline of the clarinet and the emergence of some remarkable performers. Today it has largely replaced the clarinet as the major double for saxophonists, and a coterie of artists have made the flute their exclusive voice.

Mark Weinstein is one such artist. Originally a trombonist, he did much to create a role for that horn in the area of Latin jazz, working with some leading Latin bands of the 1960s, including Eddie Palmieri, Cal Tjader, Tito Puente and one of the pioneers of jazz flute, Herbie Mann. In 1967, he released the ground-breaking recording Cuban Roots. Dismayed by the apathy with which it was treated, however, Weinstein became disillusioned with the music business and turned to other pursuits.

Forty-one years later, Mark Weinstein is in possession of a Ph.D. in philosophy, a college professorship, and an undimmed thirst for music that has seen him take up the flute and issue 14 highly varied recordings.

Latin music is still an essential element of Mark's work. "My music is rooted in deep Cuban folkloric traditions," he told All About Jazz in a 2005 interview. But the flute leads into many different music traditions, and Weinstein has followed it faithfully into African, Brazilian and Jewish genres. "I see myself as following the path that Herbie Mann took," he says, "playing flute, and nothing but flute, with the greatest musicians, and playing music of the world."

Citing Herbie is apt. Mann did much to define the direction for the flute in jazz, particularly Latin jazz. Dissatisfied with the instrument in a straight-ahead setting, Herbie found more success when he introduced Afro-Cuban Rhythms. "Growing up in New York I heard a lot of Latin bands," he told me. "And there was a DJ in New York named Symphony Sid who suggested that if I added some Latin percussion it would work better. So I did, and it did." As did Weinstein. Here, however, he turns to the straight-ahead genre. Not for the first time -- both Seasoning (1996) and Three Deuces (2000) followed that format. Weinstein is perfectly comfortable in this setting -- he cites John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Mingus as influences, as well as Herbie Mann.

This was not the case for all the pioneers of jazz flute. "Very few have been able to combine a good, swinging beat with the correct inflection and a non-classical tone," complained Jerome Richardson, one of the first to take up the instrument, but a lot has changed in jazz since these pioneering days. Flutists from Frank Wess to Hubert Laws have addressed these problems with great success, and contemporary, straight-ahead jazz is much more than the simple 4/4 of 1950s bebop. No one even played in 3/4 time until the late 50s experiments of Max Roach and Dave Brubeck. Now, many time signatures are common and all kinds of vamps, and other rhythmic effects provide a much greater variety of settings for jazz improvisors. Weinstein draws on such devices to create the variety and movement necessary to offset the limited range of colors available on the flute, as does his use of the alto and bass flutes.

Painstaking attention to detail characterizes all of Weinstein's recordings, from original conception to final mixing. Careful research and choice of material, selection of musicians and engineer, preparation of the arrangements; all are in evidence here. Mark wisely balances original material by himself and Stryker with classic compositions from the jazz canon, including work by Thelonius Monk, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter, to create a program that holds the interest throughout. His choice of musicians is equally astute. Dave Stryker's precise, thoughtful guitar is a perfect foil for Weinstein's animated, exuberant flute work. Since the time of Apollo and Pan there has been a unique symbiosis between the playful flute and the more austere stringed instruments, and it works beautifully here.

Drummer Victor Lewis has been called, by jazz writer Bill Kohlhasse, "a master of shading and color, and the kind of timekeeper that could teach a clock new ways to tick." I could not put it any better. For me, however, it is the bass player who determines whether a group flows; that this group flows tells you all you need to know about Ed Howard.

Each of the ten selections is remarkable in its own way. Highlights: the high energy levels of "Loverin'," a Weinstein original based on the changes of "Lover," and Rollins' "Airegin;" the great medium-tempo groove of "Blues For Janice;"; the 3/4 time floating of Shorter's "Miyako," with Mark on alto and over-dubbed flute figures; some fine ballad playing on his "Sleeping Beauty;" Stryker's compositions - unusual, almost folksy, but highly engaging; Mark's flute, always imaginative, full of unusual little twists and turns, particularly eloquent on Stryker's "Crianza." And who but Mark Weinstein would play "Straight No Chaser" on bass flute?

I am quite sure Mark is already planning his next session in an entirely different vein. Watch for it.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mark Weinstein
  • CD Title: Straight No Chaser
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Jazzheads Records
  • Tracks: Loverin; Miyako; Blues for Janice; Airegin; Shanti; Sleeping Beauty; Invitation; Violets for Your Furs; Straight; No Chaser; Crianza
  • Rating: Four Stars
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