Ezra Weiss

Get Happy

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Duke Ellington was fond of saying that he considered his orchestra, not his piano, his "instrument." Ellington was a masterful pianist -- just listen to his occasional trio recordings -- but ultimately, he felt that his bandleader/arranger skills were what did the most to define him as an artist. And even though Ezra Weiss has not emulated Ellington stylistically -- Art Blakey's bands have, in the past, been a much bigger influence -- Weiss has, like Ellington, displayed a bandleader/arranger mentality more than a hell-bent-for-piano-solos mentality. Weiss did that on The Five A.M. Strut in 2002 and Persephone in 2004, and he continues to do so on his 2006 recording Get Happy. While The Five A.M. Strut had a hard-swinging approach that showed, in no uncertain terms, Weiss' fondness for Blakey's bands, Get Happy has a much more pensive, contemplative approach that sometimes brings to mind Bill Evans (the pianist, not the saxophonist) and suggests Herbie Hancock as well. Get Happy is largely an album of quartet and quintet performances (different saxophonists are featured on different selections), and yet, Weiss maintains the bandleader/arranger perspective that is usually applied to large or medium-sized ensembles rather than small groups. Weiss gets in his share of memorable solos, but his arrangements tell the story as much as his pianism does -- and the mood is consistently pensive whether Weiss is embracing original material or turning his attention to well known standards such as Rodgers & Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone," Rodgers & Hart's "Blue Room," and Jule Styne's "It's You or No One." Although various female vocalists are occasionally featured (including Samantha Grabler and Heidi Krenn), instrumentals dominate this 2006 recording -- which paints an attractive picture of not only Ezra Weiss the pianist but also, Ezra Weiss the arranger.

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