Mort Weiss’ tenth album in eleven years continues the torrid pace of activity that this accomplished clarinetist has been on since beginning his long-delayed recording career in 2001. Each time out he applies his bop-based artistry to a different setting, and this time it’s the highly flexible, attenuated clarinet/bass/drums format. Helping him on this endeavor are the well-regarded talents of drummer Roy McCurdy (Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Nancy Wilson) and bassist Chris Conner (Chet Baker, Bobby Caldwell, jazz vocalist Chris Connor), and they flush out a baker’s dozen of sturdy old jazz tunes — plus an offbeat Weiss original — recorded during a single day in the studio. No overdubs, no second takes and no rehearsing. I’ll Be Seeing You is a throwback to how jazz dates were commonly taped back when Weiss worked as a saxophonist in the 50s and 60s.
You’d hardly know that Weiss spent so many years on the sax as he doesn’t play the clarinet as most sax players do. He’s thoroughly figured out how to exploit the tonality and character unique to this wooden reed instrument, infusing his own, spunky character through the horn (Weiss is seventy-seven years YOUNG to anyone who knows him). His friskiness is on full display on the swinging and upbeat tunes such as “Alone Together” and “You Do Something To Me,” and there are a few moments where he threatens to “go outside” but is too attached to the melody to stay away from it for long. He flutters all around it like a blue jay on “Blues For Alice” and cradles them like a newborn on the solo intros that kick off the “Spring Is Here/A Time For Love” and “Here’s That Rainy Day/My Funny Valentine” medleys. As we previously related, Weiss can put on a clinic while playing completely gracefully as he does on the softly swinging rendition of “The Touch Of Your Lips.”
Weiss’ picks for the rhythm section were spot-on choices. McCurdy is a master swing maker, and keeps his timekeeping crisp and steadfastly abiding. Conner understands the difference between playing in a band with an accompanist and in a band without one, as in this instance. He can be heard out front a little more to fill up some of the space left the absence of a piano by playing his harmonic progressions with greater definition and volume, and when he solos as he does on “Alone Together” and “Blues For Alice” it’s done with taste and in service of the melody. Ramon Banda contributes congas on four of five songs, bolstering the swing on the tune “I’ll Be Seeing You” (video above), accentuating the samba on “When Your Lover’s Gone,” and setting the changing pace of the Latin pulse on “Azule Serpe.”
Weiss goes all solo for his own “Gots The Horn In My Mouth Blues,” a hilarious sendup of the blues where he alternates each line warbling some Delta-inspired lyrics and blowing blues-drenched statements on his clarinet to a faux audience. The humor is very much a part of the man, and this performance completes the musical portrait of him in a light-hearted way.
The challenges that Weiss sets up for each record he makes always seem to result in records that sound effortless and vigorous, not labored and overly cerebral. For Mort Weiss, it’s just another day at the office. Or rather, a single, highly productive day in the studio.
I’ll Be Seeing You was released last month on SMS Records. Check out his unique perspectives and reminiscences of the world of jazz on The Mort Report at All About Jazz.