Mark Weinstein has recorded two straight-ahead albums so far, 1996's Seasoning and Three Deuces in 2000. Following on from his 2007 release of a straight-ahead Latin jazz album, the unforgettable Con Alma, 2008 sees a welcome return to straight-ahead with Straight No Chaser. again on the Jazzheads label.
Stylistically, Mark Weinstein's Straight No Chaser is the most contemporary, even adventurous, of his straight-ahead albums yet, and like any new Weinstein release it provides plenty of excitement and surprises. And who but Mark Weinstein would have considered giving his alto, let alone bass flute, such prominent outings on straight-ahead, for a start! (At least, I certainly don't recall any precedents, Google doesn't seem to come up with any reasonable leads, and it'll take me too long to check through my not inconsiderable collection of jazz flute recordings, going back to the - almost complete - Yusef Lateef, at least several examples each by Frank Wess, Jerome Richardson, Hubert Laws, Eric Dolphy, and the again almost complete Herbie Mann, and others, not to mention even a few examples of the more recent lightweight pretenders.)
The side Mark Weinstein picked for Straight No Chaser is, as usual, impeccable. Dave Stryker's crisp, exact and restrained guitar work provides the perfect offset for Weinstein's playful, exuberant and luxurious flute. Ed Howard's bass provides the perfect "glue" underneath and keeps things swinging delightfully, while Victor Lewis and his drums provide the kind of timekeeping and palette that almost remind of the atomic clock precision and the huge spectrum of Asaf Sirkis.
The selection of tracks on Straight No Chaser is as eclectic as one has come to expect from Mark Weinstein. The five standards selected here include three of the best-known and probably most frequently recorded ones of more recent times (I know, that probably dates me!), one each by Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, and Wayne Shorter. Five originals round off the selection, three by Weinstein and two by Stryker.
The opener of Straight No Chaser is the high-octane Mark Weinstein original Loverin', based on the changes of Lover. This gets the album off to an unbelievably swinging start, with great soloing from Weinstein and Stryker. The fluidity of Weinstein's flute is a marvel to behold. The Wayne Shorter classic Miyako is ideally suited to Mark Weinstein's alto, floating along wispily. Despite the 3/4 time and dramatic opening and closing cymbal, this piece is given an almost bossa-like feel here, cool and relaxed, even dreamy, with ever inventive improvs from Weinstein set off beautifully by multi-tracked flute figures and solid guitar solos from Stryker. Blues For Janice is another Weinstein original, a superb medium tempo groove with singing and soaring improvs from Weinstein and laid-back soloing from Stryker, and some wonderful drumming from Lewis, and a superbly subdued bass solo from Howard. Sonny Rollins' classic Airegin sees Weinstein's flute sounding improbably Rollins-like - forget the timbre of the flute for a moment and imagine that of the sax, and you'll get the idea. The soloing from Weinstein and Stryker is breathtaking. The Dave Stryker original Shanti is an unusual and striking composition, with an intro that could almost suggest Indian influences (though its title is more clearly so), and a generally folk-ish feel. Mark Weinstein's ever innovative flute dances, sings and soars, and Stryker also gives us one of his most exciting solos, with plenty of scope also for drummer Lewis.
Sleeping Beauty is the third of the Weinstein originals and the most beguiling in many respects, especially with its wonderful time shifts. Wonderfully swinging soloing from Stryker provides the perfect complement to Weinstein's imaginative and almost unstoppable flute that sometimes leaves you gasping for air. Mark Weinstein's alto gets another outing on Invitation with wonderfully flowing and fluid soloing, also by Stryker and Howard. The somewhat pensive Violets For Your Furs witnesses Weinstein's flute at its most human voice-like, with imaginative singing, lyrical improvs, and also highly lyrical, melodious soloing from Stryker. The title track, the Thelonious Monk classic Straight, No Chaser, is absolutely stunning with Mark Weinstein's bass flute taking the lead. Who else but Weinstein would have even conceived of it! This is the finest jazz bass flute yet and the most exciting and original interpretation of Straight, No Chaser. It is far from the easiest of compositions to tackle on the bass flute, but Weinstein makes it all sound so easy and natural, with superb soloing and ditto for Stryker. Crianza, another Stryker original, closes Mark Weinstein's Straight No Chaser. And if you were left wondering how you follow the amazing title track, here's Weinstein's answer. His alto again takes the lead here, highly lyrical, with perhaps some of the most eloquent flute and ever inventive soloing. Dave Stryker's guitar likewise provides some fine soloing and the rhythm section provides sterling support that shines.
Perhaps one of the most amazing and surprising things about Mark Weinstein is that he never ceases to amaze and surprise even though one has come to almost expect him to. And yet again he has certainly done so with Straight No Chaser, the most thrilling straight-ahead album in many a year. And yet again Mark Weinstein shows why he is one of the great legendary giants of jazz.
If you are a true jazz fan and you still haven't got this album, it's about time you did.
© 2008 Rainlore's World of Music/Rainlore. All rights reserved.