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Night of The Cookers

The cookers, as they were known, were the irrepressible Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan on trumpet, James Spaulding on alto saxophone and flute, Harold Mabern Jr. on piano, Larry Ridley on bass and Pete La Roca on drums. The sextet took stage at, long defunct, Club La Marchal in Brooklyn over two evenings on April 1965. Collectively and singularly, they strutted and soared to ever individualistic displays of tenacity, stamina and fire. Blue Note Records appropriately called the date, "Night of The Cookers."

Almost 40 years later, the cookers return for a three-day engagement at the urbane and intimate jazz club, Iridium, located at Midtown, Manhattan. The cookers, as they are now, have returning players Spaulding and La Roca-Simms. They are joined in by veteran, Eddie Henderson on trumpet with a squad of firmly entrenched neoboppers, David Weiss on trumpet, Craig Handy on tenor saxophone and Dwayne Burno on bass.

Missing in action are, Ridley, Hubbard, who just celebrated his birthday and completed a three day engagement at the Iridium with an octet, and Mabern who just put in a stint at the Jazz Standard with a quartet led by George Coleman. Morgan, who is sorely missed, met his untimely death over 30 years ago.

These cookers are a combination of jazz veteran greats who lend composure, strength and experience. The band of newcomers brings a directness and modernity without compromising soul, honesty and resilience, not to mention plenty of chops.

Far short of a full house, the cookers were not going to be discouraged. They launch into a romper, "The Arietis," by Freddie Hubbard. After a four-horn intro, Handy wastes no time immediately plunging into his solo which is commanding and strong and builds confidently throughout with creeping intensity over several choruses. Henderson goes next and provides nice contrasts with his warm and resonant tone. Spaulding is academic hitting all the right notes with a sense of ease and placement. Weiss comes in crystal clear and articulate. He gets an affirmative nod from Henderson who watches from the sidelines. Cables dives in next by nurturing his solo like a craftsman before leading us back where the four horns restate the theme before bowing out.

In homage to spring, and to the unusually fine weather today, Hubbard’s "Up Jumps Spring," cheers up the audience. Henderson unwinds with flugelhorn caressing with broad but warm vibrato less strokes, while multi-talented Spaulding invokes the air of spring with uplifting flights of his flute. La Roca-Simms makes the ordinarily cumbersome drums, sound lithe and musical. In usual solo order, Cables is lyrical and engaging recapitulating the theme.

The cookers dip, once again, into Hubbard’s well to dig up "The Core," a typical vehicle for blowing, albeit, the cookers don’t just endeavor to simply blow, but erupt. Burno introduces the hard bop gem with an ominous bass into, followed by the controlled kinetics and sizzle of La Roca-Simms. Handy, who is excellent throughout this set, comes out swinging broad shouldered ala Sonny Rollins interjecting strong statements that grab hold of the listener in what is easily his best solo in the set. Difficult to better his solo, Weiss, veers a different path but never at the expense of passion and pulse. He constructs his path by building a coherent solo that builds in dips and leaps of an ever expanding tension. Cables again show his deft touch as his right hand glides across the keys with dexterity, sparkle and adrenaline. All solos have the guts of Hubbard and the spirit of Morgan.

Lee Morgan who has largely been known for his brash confident tone, pyrotechnic displays and hallmark slash and burn, all-or-nothing presentation, is a first-rate balladeer with an unabashedly sincere and warm delivery. Morgan’s tender, yet woeful, "Melancholia," is the only ballad in a set of hard bop numbers. Cable’s stirring opening is followed by Henderson, on flugelhorn, who executes in obvious deference to Morgan. Handy, in a Websterish mode, plays with soul and tenderness in an extended solo that envelops the listener in a big but rhapsodic tone. Excellent flanking comes from Burno with his insightfulness and accompaniment and La Roca-Simm’s sensitive touch and light brushwork. Henderson closes out on Harmon mute.

The cookers return to close out with another Morgan number, "Zip Code." Fully recharged and well rested, and in hard-bop guise; take no prisoners, they launch into their final number with spirited soloing by all. Leading the way and setting the tone, Spaulding solos with reckless authority punctuating his strides with high-note acrobatics, which he does not always fully reach. Henderson, going all Harmon mute, forges ahead in an already brisk tempo and prodding from Burno and La Roca-Simms, by delivering a blistering attack of 16 notes and half-valves. Handy and Weiss are excellent and continue to solo with ardor and poise showing a maturity well beyond their years. Before closing out, the four horn men trade eights, then fours, in a not to out-do competition, but in obvious celebration of jazz, the spirit of live music and free expression.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: The Cookers
  • Concert Date: 4/22/2004
  • Subtitle: The Cookers Barnstorm the Iridium
  • Venue: The Iridium
  • City State Country: New York, New York
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