The Cookers celebrate fifth anniversary with third release “Believe,” available on June 12

The Cookers. Photo credit: Vincent Soyez

In an interview, drum great Billy Hart summed up his attitude toward The Cookers succinctly but emphatically: “Believe in us,” he insisted (tacking an expletive onto the end that served to press the point home). Over the course of two albums, The Cookers have given jazz audiences plenty of reason to believe, and their Motéma Music debut, bearing the simple but eloquent title Believe, finds the all-star septet continuing to keep the faith in swinging fashion – their third release, celebrating their fifth anniversary as a working ensemble.

The credentials of these seven musicians are beyond reproach, but simply gathering a group of legends and throwing them into a recording studio isn’t necessarily a recipe for success, points out David Weiss, the band’s founder, chief organizer, and trumpeter. 

“A lot of basketball teams throughout the years have signed a group of all-stars and assumed they would win it all because they had assembled the best group of players imaginable and in the end lost because they never really considered that the group would not gel and could not play together,” Weiss points out by way of illustration. “You can’t just put a bunch of names together and expect it to be great. These guys just turned out to be the perfect combination.”
It’s impossible to foresee how any ensemble will gel until the first notes are played, of course, but The Cookers had an inherent advantage in the fact that these legendary jazzmen had all proven themselves integral components in great bands of the past. Harper was a member of groups led by Lee Morgan and Max Roach and served a two-year stint with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers; trumpeter Eddie Henderson and drummer Billy Hart were both part of Herbie Hancock’s electric Mwandishi ensemble; pianist George Cables played alongside Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper; and bassist Cecil McBee anchored Charles Lloyd’s famed 1960s quartet with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette.
“This is a band,” Weiss says, emphasizing the fact that the unit has cohered into something that transcends its all-star status. “But it’s a band of guys who have been in a lot of the most important bands in the history of this music. They know what it’s like to be in a band and what makes bands great.”
The line-up is completed by Weiss and altoist Craig Handy, players from a later generation who nevertheless follow in their bandmates’ fiery footsteps. The name comes from the Freddie Hubbard’s classic two-volume album Night of the Cookers, classics featuring Lee Morgan, Harold Mabern, James Spaulding, Pete LaRoca, Big Black, and Larry Ridley. These Cookers approach their material in the same sense of adventurous exploration as Hubbard and his ensemble did, generating brilliant music out of seemingly basic elements.

Like their previous two critically acclaimed releases, Cast The First Stone (Plus Loin, 2011) and Warriors (Jazz Legacy Productions, 2010), Believe consists almost entirely of music written by the band members themselves, culled by Weiss from throughout their storied careers.

“Once you get these guys together and really see what they can do,” Weiss says, “you see that they’re not truly being recognized. They have direct ties to all the music that everybody, even younger people, came to this music listening to. They were part of what made jazz what it is and the classic records that attract most people to jazz, the greatest era of this music. Let’s not forget where this thing came from and why it was so good: it’s exciting music played with compassion and conviction and intensity. That’s what these guys are doing.”
It’s that urge, to recognize and celebrate these tremendous artists while they continue to create at the height of their powers, that inspired the band to distill Hart’s directive down to that one single word: Believe.
“It’s a simple word for a philosophy,” Weiss says. “Just believe in something. Care about something. And since you have this record in your hand, believe in this.”  

Pianist Geri Allen shares a collection of music on new CD “A Child is Born”

Despite its time-honored traditions and universally familiar iconography, Christmas remains a holiday celebrated by each family and even each individual in their own personal style. Pianist/composer Geri Allen offers her own interpretation with A Child Is Born, a collection of traditional and original Christmas music that is profound and exuberant, solemn and joyous, spiritual and intimate.

Allen’s third release for Motéma Music is a solo sequel to her critically acclaimed solo debut, 2010’s Flying Toward the Sound. Where that release paid tribute to three of her creative inspirations – Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Cecil Taylor – A Child Is Born honors equally meaningful but perhaps even more deeply entrenched influences: family and spirituality. She refers to the album as “a joyous Christmas celebration and remembrance of a childhood where love was always unconditional.”
Geri Allen
This holiday offering finds Allen at a particularly celebratory time of life. Her tandem 2010 releases on Motéma, the solo, Flying Toward the Sound, and the quartet, Timeline Live, have shown her to be at the top of her game, gaining unanimous acclaim internationally and jostling with each other for space on numerous year-end top ten lists. A 2008 Guggenheim Fellowship helped Allen facilitate her debut solo project on Motéma; and Timeline Live, which features the startlingly talented Maurice Chestnut on ‘tap-percussion,’ has been selling out houses world wide and garnered a career first for Allen: an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Jazz Album, alongside Herbie Hancock, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Wynton Marsalis, and Bobby McFerrin. National respect for Allen as a virtuosic, innovative performer, composer, and educator (she is currently an Associate Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation at the University of Michigan) is undeniable, as evidenced by two powerful recent honors of 2011. She was invited to perform in honor of the historic Dr. Martin Luther King Monument Unveiling this August in Washington D.C.
A Child Is Born is dedicated to Allen’s family, in particular to her father, Mount Allen, Jr. and mother, Barbara Jean Allen. 
“I am privileged and blessed to have grown up as the child of Barbara Jean and Mount Vernell Allen, Jr.,” she says in a recent news release. “I know God loved me because He gave them to my brother Mount and I. Memories of many loving Christmases with family remain as affirmations of the beauty of life and God’s never-ending love. Today, I share these timeless melodies and personal remembrances with my own children.”