Some of the best jazz sounds are generated by small
to mid-sized combos with two or three horns, often playing as a unit.
The Ezra Weiss Sextet’s Before You Know It – Live in Portland
(Roark Records, 2014) delivers that style in grand fashion.
Weiss plays piano. His sidemen are Farnell Newton, trumpet; John Nastos,
alto saxophone; Devin Phillips, tenor saxophone; Jon Shaw, bass; and
Christopher Brown, drums.
“The Crusher” is an upbeat, toe-tapping song. The horns shift easily
from a bright, overlapping melody, to a – well, words cannot adequately
describe the softer phrase. Newton steps out first, rolling notes in a
manner that brings to mind Freddie Hubbard or Terence Blanchard. Weiss
pounds the keys emphatically behind him. Weiss powers down briefly
during the saxophone solo so we can hear more of Shaw, but the piano
gets going later on. The horns come back with the same verve as the
“Don’t Need No Ticket” is a ballad whose title was inspired by the
Curtis Mayfield composition, “People Get Ready.” Some of the phrases
here remind one of that song. The rhythm is such that one can easily
imagine Mayfield’s soul group, The Impressions, or Janis Siegel singing
the lyrics of “People Get Ready” to Weiss’ instrumental score. The
featured soloists begin softly, playing their horns barely above a
whisper, before building up to a more passionate, attention-getting
delivery. All then goes quiet for Shaw to stretch out a bit on acoustic
bass. The audience shows its appreciation when he’s done. When the horns
come back in, Phillips is the dominant voice, as the tenor moans and
wails, pleading for stragglers to get on board the train before it
leaves the station.
Weiss composed seven of the nine tracks, with new arrangements of songs
by George and Ira Gershwin, and John Coltrane. Listed in 2012 and 2013
DownBeat Critics Polls and three-time winner of the ASCAP Young
Jazz Composer Award, he has lead bands in many of the United States’
best known jazz clubs, including Dizzy’s Club Coca-Coca in New York
City, the Triple Door in Seattle and Catalina’s in Los Angeles. He holds
a bachelor’s degree in jazz composition from the Oberlin Conservatory
and a master’s degree in jazz piano from Queens College. Weiss resides
with his wife and two sons in Portland, Oregon, where he teaches at
Portland State University.
Before You Know It was recorded on October 19 and December 21,
2013, at Ivories Jazz Lounge in Portland.