Jazz CD Reviews

Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe – SMS Jazz

Bebop clarinetist brings that old time swing.

Published on July 12, 2011

Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe – SMS Jazz

Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe – SMS Jazz, 79:18 ****:

(Mort Weiss – clarinet; Bill Cunliffe – piano; Sam Most – flute; Chris Conner – bass; Roy McCurdy – drums; Ron Eschere – guitar; Peter Marx – spoken word; Scott Yanow – clarinet; Antony Weiss – guitar)

In the big band era, clarinets were plentiful. Orchestras led by Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman and Jimmy Dorsey were hugely popular. The trend did not continue. Many clarinet players doubled or completely switched to saxophone. Resurgence by players like Eddie Daniels, Bill Smith and Buddy DeFranco reintroduced the instrument on a limited basis.

Mort Weiss is another traditional jazz clarinetist. He has resurfaced after a three decade hiatus. Educated in classical music, he was transformed after hearing a Charlie Parker record. Having experienced an up and down career. he “retired” following an unwanted transition to saxophone. After opening his own music store, he formed SMS Jazz, and began recording.

In the latest release Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe, bebop swing takes flight. Weiss explores the repertoire of rhythmic play, aided by the sharp licks of Bill Cunliffe on piano. Miles Davis’ “The Theme” kicks off the eruption as clarinet and piano runs are explosive. Drummer Roy McCurdy drives the beat with relentless energy. A highlight is a syncopated duet take on Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love”. Animated clarinet leads segue into harmonic and counterpoint lines. The duo shares a sense of timing and unbridled swing. Charlie Parker’s “Dewey Square” is straightforward bop, enhanced by a McCurdy drum break.
 
Change of pace is no problem for this band. Anthony Newley’s Broadway standard “Who Can I Turn To” has a gentler arrangement. Both Weiss and Cunliffe showcase their ability to delve into the melodic themes of structured compositions. Chris Conner gets an opportunity for a bass solo that fits nicely into the mix. Special guest, Sam Most is a welcome addition on a few tracks. “Gentle Rain” evolves into bossa nova/Caribbean reverie as the flute steers the ensemble to a supple approach. Weiss and Most exchange and play in harmony with relaxed ease. “Indian Summer” is more up tempo and allows the flautist to fit in with the group’s enticing swagger. A beatnik poetry offering (“Readings Of Keouac 1”) seems curiously “unhip”. Guitarist Ron Eschete is featured on “If I Should Lose You”.

Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe is a welcome return of the swinging bebop clarinet.
 
TrackList: The Theme; Who Can I Turn To; Indian Summer; The Gentle Rain; What Is This Thing Called Love; Readings Of Kerouac 1; My Ship; If I Should Lose You; The Sheik Of Araby; Dewey Square; Awaken; For Heaven’s Sake; Who Cares
 
–Robbie Gerson




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