NY Jazz Report's Thad Kawecki and Will Wolf were at The Jazz Gallery Friday evening 7.November to hear Michael Weiss ,the BMI/Thelonious Monk Institute award-winning composer and pianist, leading his septet through original material drawn from his new album "Soul Journey" as well as a new work "Three Doors" commissioned by Chamber Music America. The show was made possible with generous support from Chamber Music America's New Works: Creation and Presentation Program, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
Michael Weiss Piano
Ryan Kisor Trumpet
Jim Snidero Alto & Soprano Saxophone
Adam Koker Tenor Saxophone & Bass Clarinet
Paul Gill Bass
Joe Strasser Drums
Daniel Freedman Percussion
Kawecki:This place always seems to feature an interesting pianist, and this was no exception.
Wolf: Michael Weiss is an excellent bop pianist without question.
Kawecki: Well, players rooted in be-bop usually are the best improvisers, aren't they?
Wolf: Yes. Unfortunately, I couldnít always hear him as well as I would have liked. The Jazz Gallery is a nice little room, and a pleasant change of space from the normal jazz venue, but it can be a little unkind to musicians, sometimes, acoustically.
Kawecki: The piano did seem a little bit subdued. I couldnít really tell if it was the room or the instrument, but Weiss could have had a little more presence.
Wolf: I think the piano, as they reminded us, originally Paul Desmond's and brought over to The Jazz Gallery from tne now defunct Bradley's, was just fine. I think it was more a case of bad acoustics, or maybe poor miking.
Kawecki: Well, in any event, a brighter piano would have better served the ensembleís sound. Especially since the lionís share of their repertoire was somewhat uptempo and the arrangements were quite dense with horns.
Wolf: Speaking of up-tempo, I certainly would have enjoyed some ballads. The commissioned piece, tentatively called "THREE DOORS", was amongst the best tonight. One reason being: it had some slower sections. It also had much more dynamic power and changes of feeling and tempo. I was much more moved emotionally. It was an excellent composition and arrangement performed well by the entire group. The musicians seemed to interact on a higher level. It was the highlight of the set.
Kawecki: It was definitely the most interesting of Weissí compositions: varying tempi, colors, a nice length---three compact movements, and some genuinely exciting moments. Iíd like to hear that one again.
Wolf: Me too. Unfortunately, I canít say that about the rest of the tunes. Although I think all the arrangements were first rate, I was just not that excited by the other pieces. And it seemed to me, neither were the musicians. They did an excellent job of ensemble playing, often creating very beautiful harmonies, but they lacked in feeling when it came to their solo work. And, that helped to detract from each composition as a whole.
Kawecki: I was a bit disappointed, too. This ensemble has the potential for a much better performance than it delivered. The horn soloists, in general, seemed detached and a bit too academic in their playing. The second tune, "EL CAMINO", a nice latin number, was definitely worse for wear after the solos. Likewise, "ORIENT EXPRESS". However, this time it was a forced drum solo that hurt the groove.
Look, all these guys can play, thatís obvious. But I think they were having a bad set.
Wolf: Maybe. But, it could be, and I emphasize could be, because I am not sure, that they were just not inspired by the material. Despite Weissí gorgeous arrangements the tunes are just too derivative. I appreciate Weiss more as a pianist and an arranger. As Iíve already said I liked the "THREE DOORS" suite as a composition, but I just didnít connect to the tunes from the "SOUL JOURNEY" album. They just didnít do it for me.
Kawecki: So I guess what youíre saying is that his influences are showing a bit too much in this work.
Wolf: What I mean to say more than anything else, is that the compositions from the CD sound derivative AND dated. And, therefore, a lot less interesting to me. They sound a lot like compositions that I've heard before, updated with modern arrangements. Considering Weiss' masterful arranging skills I would have preferred a new arrangement of a bop classic.
Kawecki: Well, I have to disagree with you. I like the writing on "SOUL JOURNEY". While I do agree that it isnít ground breaking, I do think it is very good jazz writing, with "EL CAMINO" perhaps it's most successful tune. And although these works fell short of the mark in this performance, their value shouldn't be dismissed.
Wolf: Although I always enjoy hearing Michael Weiss, I hope he continues to expand his creative energy more in the direction of pieces like "THREE DOORS". That's something to look forward to.
MICHAEL WEISS Website
email Thad Kawecki
email Will Wolf