Jazz CD Reviews
Mort Weiss – All Too Soon: A Jazz Duet for Clarinet and Seven String Guitar – SMS Jazz
Published on August 14, 2009
Mort Weiss – All Too Soon: A Jazz Duet for Clarinet and Seven String Guitar – SMS Jazz SMSZ 2008, 67:45 ****:
(Mort Weiss – clarinet, co-producer; Ron Escheté – seven string guitar)
The clarinet has been on the wane as a leading jazz instrument since the swing era ended, despite some marvelous clarinetists such as Eddie Daniels, Ken Peplowski, and Buddy DeFranco, or eclectic practitioners like Don Byron. One of the least known but accomplished exponents of the reed instrument is Mort Weiss, who has reasserted himself since returning from a self-imposed musical exile, issuing several outstanding recordings over the last decade, in the process re-igniting his career when most people are entering retirement.
It is hard to imagine a comeback after an extended hiatus like the one that began when Weiss abruptly stopped performing back in 1965, but Weiss sounds stronger and healthier than ever before. Maybe he is making up for lost time, or perhaps he knows he does not have the luxury of time, because he is now in his 70s.
All Too Soon, Weiss’ collaboration with Los Angeles-based guitarist Ron Escheté, is an improvised outing of cool jazz and ballad interpretations that swings with spirit and freshness and shifts from bop (Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk) and Brazilian (two by Jobim) to standards by Sammy Cahn, Johnny Mercer and others.
Weiss and Escheté are in rare form throughout. The two friends open with Parker’s "Scrapple from the Apple," done at a fast tempo. Weiss and Escheté start the race in unison, Weiss laying out a fervent solo while Escheté comps with piano-like movements. When Escheté takes his solos, he darts along with single note clusters and chords, effortlessly blending treble and bass on his seven-string instrument. This tune, like all of the 12 tracks, is a first take: you can even hear someone laughing on the fade out. Weiss states in his liner notes he and Escheté did not rehearse anything, had no advance set list, and the intros and outros are what was created in the moment while the tapes rolled.
Another highlight from the bop era is the oft-covered "Blue Monk." Weiss and Escheté establish a charming and swinging groove on Thelonious Monk’s jazz classic. Escheté in particular impresses when he combines his walking bass lines alongside his always consummate comping. Escheté keeps both the friendly rhythm easygoing and the tune’s astute harmony lines smooth and steady. In the meantime, Weiss carries the wistful melody and adds some elegant extemporization.
Weiss’ tone has a sincere expansion and he reveals a developing vibrancy with each album release. This quality of physical and mental evolution shines through on several standards. During "Softly As in a Morning Sunrise" Weiss displays his command of his clarinet’s lower and middle registers, probing emotional territory and imparting an impeccable sense of time. Escheté is also consistently appealing and near the four-minute mark the guitarist glides into a spirited ramble that Weiss audibly cheers. On the mid-tempo "Be My Love," Weiss commences with a brisk swirl of notes, and around the midpoint Escheté steps forward with a solo endeavor that effectively demonstrates his use of chords and single-note phrases that are mindfully organized, and subsequently gets another "Yeah!" from Weiss. The record’s longest piece is Tadd Dameron’s "If You Could See Me Now," which Weiss and Escheté take at a low leisurely pace. Weiss’ clarinet is confident, copious, and rich, and the lingering vibrato he furnishes endows the cut with a suggestive and thoughtful undercurrent. Escheté gives his solo moments a modernist twist, adorning the number with some contemporary touches.
Weiss makes it clear his favorite tracks are his performances of two Antonio Carlos Jobim compositions. "O Grande Amor" is an earnest achievement – just earthy enough to be affecting but never sentimental. Weiss’ bright clarinet sparkles during some intervals, and then becomes insinuating, thus exposing the complex levels of intimacy. Escheté and Weiss close with an upbeat rendering of Jobim’s "No More Blues," where the artists relate the joy and happiness that can come from a lifelong search for better things, where hope trumps despair and sobs of sadness or rage are replaced by tears of relief.
In the album text Weiss deplores the decline of live jazz and the venues that offer low pay to professional musicians, and the continual shortage of respect for his chosen instrument. Fortunately for jazz clarinet fans this project, recorded on Weiss’ 73rd birthday, is a testament to his convictions and hard work, not to mention being a enjoyably swinging undertaking.
1. Scrapple from the Apple
2. Softly As in a Morning Sunrise
3. Blue Monk
4. Be My Love
5. D Jango
6. Dearly Beloved
7. O Grande Amor
8. Afternoon in Paris
10. Like Someone in Love
11. If You Could See Me Now
12. No More Blues
— Doug Simpson