David Weiss’ When Words Fail represents the last recording to feature the accomplished bass playing of Dwayne Burno who died in December a short time after this recording and who had also appeared on last summer's Endangered Species: The Music of Wayne Shorter. The title track is dedicated to Burno, who went way back with Weiss to his band The New Jazz Composers Octet, the quotation from Hans Christian Andersen that can be continued simply but powerfully: “music speaks.”
Unknown to Weiss at the time of recording Burno was suffering from pneumonia all the more remarkable when you listen to the sheer quality of music-making at play here. Weiss’s sextet, the New York City-born Cookers trumpeter and Burno plus tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland, alto saxophonist Myron Walden, pianist Xavier Davis and drummer EJ Strickland, reassembled here after a decade on hiatus.
An album suffused with a sense of loss, a coming to terms with Burno’s loss and tragic events such as the loss of Jimmy Greene’s daughter at the Sandy Hook massacre; and the loss of an acquaintance of Weiss’ who was pushed on to train tracks. The theme of sad departures is also conveyed on the track called ‘Loss’ written for Motéma founder Jana Herzen whose father had passed away not long before.
David Weiss: pushing hard bop through the pain barrier
The music itself, by complete contrast, is distinctly life affirming however tinged by melancholic mood, in the best traditions of the music, from the opener, a Weiss original dedicated to Freddie Hubbard who Weiss knew and worked with (On the Real Side) in the last years of his life, on. Burno’s bass line doubling the piano line of Xavier Davis’ ascending scale pattern opens the balladic title track where Weiss’ aching trumpet bluesiness pushes the band on to emerge through the pain barrier.
Weiss and Strickland’s horns blend well on ‘MJ’ the following track EJ Strickland on drums opening up lots of space for the ensemble. ‘Wayward’ was a piece for octet the main part of a commissioned suite that scales down easily allowing a greater muscularity in Weiss’ playing, his style built layer by layer via volume and interpretation rather than sheer speed. Azimuth pianist John Taylor’s ‘White Magic’ based on Herbie Hancock’s ‘Riot’ is included on When Words Fail, an interesting selection that unfolds for a big solo from Marcus Strickland whose velvety sound inspires his brother EJ to new levels of energy leading eventually to Weiss moving up to the higher part of his range for extra effect.
The most harrowing track as it turns out from a deceptive beginning is probably the take on Karl Jenkins’ ‘Lullaby for a Lonely Child’, the intensity level matched by Strickland on ‘Passage into Eternity’. A tender album When Words Fail works on a variety of levels as hard bop continues to be reinterpreted, the style putty in Weiss’ accomplished hands.
Released on 23 June
Listen to ‘Loss’ from When Words Fail above