Mort Weiss, the old-school bop clarinet player with youthful exuberance and energy, had just this month banged out his tenth album since 2001, I’ll Be Seeing You. In only five hours one day this past summer, he, Roy McCurdy (drums), Chris Conner (standup bass) and, in spots, Ramon Banda (conga), recorded fourteen performances, all first takes, with no rehearsals. Moreover, Weiss did it without the full chordal help of a piano (then again, Mort is often at his best with no accompaniment at all).
A fuller evaluation of this record is merited and forthcoming, but in the meantime, how about picking out one song and chatter about it?
“The Touch Of Your Lips,” is a sturdy old standard like most of the compositions selected for this album, a 1936 Ray Noble romantic ballad that’s been caressed by everyone from Al Bowlly to Nat King Cole. My favorite take is by Tony Bennett with Bill Evans, but Weiss’ version immediately becomes a strong contender. Weiss doesn’t sing it in the literal sense as those other cats did, but his clarinet does.
The tune begins with Conner’s jaunty bass line that sets the table nicely for Weiss to feast on (Conner finishes what he started there later on during his own solo). The crackerjack clarinetist plays initially in a singing voice and as Conner and McCurdy settle into a softly swinging groove, Mort is toying playfully with notes, racing up and easing down. He does it in such a graceful way, you’d hardly notice when he’s maneuvering through scales that would confound a lesser practitioner on his tenth take, much less a first one like this one here. What is noticeable to even the most casual listener is that Weiss is doing what he does so well: pampering a pretty melody and making it even prettier in the process.
Playing an old song in an old way with an “old” instrument remains an inspiring way to play music if it’s done with both the allure and the technical prowess of a Mort Weiss. And this song is just one case in point that he makes out of many.
I’ll Be Seeing You and the mp3s of its songs — including “The Touch Of Your Lips” — went on sale at Amazon and other online retail outlets on November 20, courtesy of SMS Jazz Records.