The Cookers ‘Time and Time Again’ (Motéma) 4/5

the-cookersTenor saxophonist and leader Billy Harper first came to prominence on the Strata East label in the early 1970s and then helped to launch the Black Saint label with his same titled debut for them in 1975. As a side man his portfolio is impressive with stints for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Lee Morgan and Max Roach among others. For this latest project on the enterprising Motéma label, Harper has enlisted a stellar cast of experienced jazz men including trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee, drummer Billy Hart and (comparatively) relative young Turk Donald Harrison (still an Art Blakey disciple alongside fellow New Orleans musician Terence Blanchard from the 1980s and now in his forties). First up is the modal waltz ‘Sir Galahad’ with a fierce tenor solo from Harper and lovely comping from Cables. The fine ensemble brass work leads into a restrained trumpet solo from Henderson and the musical environment here is quite similar to that which the trumpeter found himself in on the early 1980s Theresa recordings with Pharoah Sanders. A Jazz Messengers vibe permeates the urgent sounding ‘Double or Nothing’ while there is some welcome blues on a Cables composition, ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’, with wild wailing from Harper and a lengthy solo from McBee. Another contender for strongest album cut is the expansive ‘Dance of the Invisible Nymph’ while McCoy Tyner-esque vamps are conjured up on the polyrhythmic piece ‘Three Fall’ with key solos from both Harper and Henderson. The warm ballad ‘Farewell Mulgrew’ is indeed a tribute to the sadly departed pianist Mulgrew Miller and is a soulful piece with horns once again led by Henderson’s delicate tone. Overall, a fine recording from some veteran titans of the 1970s jazz scene who can still cook up a musical storm and yet still remains deeply melodic.

Tim Stenhouse