All-Star Jazz Band The Cookers Play Dazzle Before Releasing Their First Album in Five Years

The Cookers play two sets at Dazzle on Saturday, September 18.
The Cookers play two sets at Dazzle on Saturday, September 18. John Abbott
Last March, the guys in jazz supergroup The Cookers were set to record a live album in London as part of a European tour. After the tour got scrapped because of the pandemic, veteran musicians and members Billy Harper, Cecil McBee, George Cables, Eddie Henderson and Billy Hart, who started playing professionally in the ’60s, and younger players David Weiss and Donald Harrison got the urge to play again and make a new album last July.

Weiss, who formed the post-bop act fourteen years ago to play a tribute show to Freddie Hubbard, realized that since the NBA teams had been forming their own bubbles, musicians could make their own as well. So he and his bandmates — who've played with such jazz legends as Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Art Pepper — dusted off the cobwebs and livestreamed a concert at the Falcon, a jazz venue in upstate New York that was closed at the time.

Then they went to Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, to record tracks for what would become Look Out!, which drops on September 24 on Gearbox Records. This will be the band’s first album in five years.

While countless numbers of albums have been recorded at Van Gelder Studio for Blue Note, Prestige, Impulse!, Verve and CTI, Weiss chose the studio in part because it was outside of New York City, where most of the members live. They could drive straight from their homes to the studio without having to take subways, ride elevators or deal with parking garages.

When the Cookers were starting out, Weiss says, he wrote new arrangements for songs that bandmembers had previously recorded. But by the third album, 2012’s Believe, the bandmates started bringing in their own tunes and recommending each other's older songs.

Since the Cookers have four horn players (Weiss and Harrison play trumpet, while Harper and Harrison play saxophone), the new arrangements of the songs on the most recent album — some of which date back to the early ’70s, like bassist McBee’s “Mutima” — sound quite different from the original recordings.
Other cuts on Look Out! include new arrangements of the Cables songs “The Mystery of Monifa Brown,” “AKA Reggie” and "Traveling Lady,” which are on the pianist’s 2016 album The George Cables Songbook, while Harper’s compositions, “Destiny Is Yours” and “Somalia,” were title tracks for albums released in 1989 and 1993. Weiss notes that McBee’s “Cat’s Out of the Bag” is the one cut on Look Out! that hadn’t been recorded yet.

“There are very few tunes that are making their debut on Cookers records,” he says. “I mean, these guys are all leaders in their own right.”

Weiss says the beauty of the band and why it’s lasted so long is that everyone is game to continue doing it.

“I still look at their own bands and their priorities, since they're all great leaders,” Weiss says. “They're going to play their material, and they're getting to play their music. When we're in rehearsal and we're playing their tunes, they take over the band. It’s their time, and they tell us what to do, because it's their vision and their music.”

As for that live album they were hoping to make last year, Weiss says he hopes they’ll make it at some point.

“Part of the reason we wanted to make a live record was because we had been developing that material over a number of years,” Weiss says. “We recorded those things ten years ago, and they've turned into completely different animals over ten years of performing them regularly. And I felt that we should document that, as well.”

The Cookers play at 6:30 and 9 p.m. Saturday, September 18, at Dazzle, 1512 Curtis Street. Tickets are $30 to $40 and available at the Dazzle website.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon