Sometimes, a good thing is worth repeating. In 2010, Weiss released Sunk In, a souvenir from a club date in NYC two years earlier (additional tracks from that gig were issued the following year as Snuck Out). Weiss and his uber-talented band of some of the brightest young jazz players on the scene played some deep cuts from the tempestuous late 60s period in jazz when the music form was racing toward the outer limits of what was possible with acoustic modern jazz. I described it during my survey of Snuck In this way: “modern jazz stretched out to its logical extreme where a step further in one direction and it would be called avant-garde, a single step in another direction and it would be labeled fusion.” Weiss smartly chose compositions that represented some of the best but overlooked examples of the period to make a point about the vitality of that often-overlooked music, then had the band go to town. Everybody played lights out, the gig was well recorded, and Weiss put together a great program of songs arranged in the spirit of the times he wanted to evoke. Result: on the All-Star list for 2010.
Venture Inward, Weiss’ debut for Posi-Tone Records due out next week, is a studio song-by-song replication of Snuck In, save for Andrew Hill’s “Erato” (the only studio cut from the earlier album) being replaced by two other Hill compositions of the late 60s, “Venture Inward” and “Pax.” Also as before, Weiss on trumpet is backed by J.D. Allen (tenor sax), Nir Felder (guitar) and Jamire Williams (drums). Luques Curtis (bass) replaced Matt Clohesy. The repeated songs presented on the new album were actually recorded in the studio on the day before the live performances, and the two Hill tracks were taped on the same day a few months later as the replaced Hill track.
Interesting facts, perhaps, but taken as a standalone grouping of musical performances, all the superlatives applied to the live date are also applicable here. The rhythm section of Williams and Curtis supply the turbulence (Curtis is, like Clohesy, good at staying on point with these entangled strains with they’re shifting rhythmic patterns). Felder, as the chordal point man, counters with soft, almost Fender Rhodes-like complexions. All this allows Weiss and Allen to just blow.
Sure, in a sense it’s a blowing session, but one with the extra thrill of navigating through complex harmonic underpinnings instead of some rote runs though simple blues progressions. Right from the opening moments of Herbie Hancock’s “I Have A Dream” from 1969, Weiss and Allen are chasing and pushing each other to bring their “A” game. When the song moves from the head to the solos, Weiss plays his trumpet with a slightly fragile edge and a lot of verve, while Allen follows with an angular, more soulful tact rather like how Wayne Shorter was playing during his classic Blue Note days. When Felder solos, as he does on “Dream” and later on with “Number 4,” he devises a pleasing, linear progression in his single line notes. After Weiss and Allen coax the combo from “Dream” and right into the Tony Williams-penned “Black Comedy,” Allen again applies his soulful, thoughtful style, but swings harder, as does Weiss.
Charles Moore’s “Number 4″ is an even more elusive number than that highly regarded ones by Hancock and Williams, but thanks to Curtis staying on the case, no one ever loses their way. Jamire Williams leads the song through peaks and valleys in intensity, setting up modulating challenges for Allen and Weiss.
The two “new” compositions introduced here are examples of Hill’s flexibility to craft melodies that flow in a natural way even as they are knotty and not always easy to solve. For “Venture Inward,“ the rhythm section really pops on this tune, making it easier for Allen’s sax and Weiss’ trumpet to swing with more authority. On the other hand, “ Pax” is an eloquent and somewhat esoteric tone poem, and Felder is able to dig deep into it and construct a pretty solo.
As to how these performances compare to Snuck In, they are remarkably similar aside from the studio versions each running about a couple of minutes shorter. But on Venture Inward, you get two Andrew Hill songs instead of one. That’s enough to make Venture Inward worth the plunking down the money for even if you already have Snuck In.