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[live review] The Cookers at Scullers

The ostensible draw for the Cookers is the venerable firepower of their front line - tenor saxophonist Billy Harper and trumpeter Eddie Henderson, who are seen all too rarely in these parts, and Cookers "administrative director" David Weiss (also on trumpet) with Craig Handy on alto sax. But what really makes the band work is how they all sound together. Named for a historic Freddie Hubbard Blue Note live session (The Night of the Cookers), this band is steeped in late hard bop - bluesy, anthemic, with a strong streak of Coltrane. And there's plenty of hard blowing on their latest, third CD, Believe (Motema) as there was in their show at Scullers Thursday night. Yes, there was one hefty solo after another in the live show (only six songs in their two-hour set). But what lifted each solo were the assenting choir of backing horns at the top of each chorus. That and the rhythm section.

About that rhythm section. Seventy-seven-year old bassist Cecil McBee was keeping time, yes, but also alternating patterns in a continuous, muscular stream of counterpoint to the solos, shifting registers from low-note drones to cello-on-steroids high pizzicato. Drummer Billy Hart was equally relentless, pushing soloists over the edge with hard rolls, bringing it back down with the cross-rhythms of kick drum against beautifully tuned tom-toms and snare. And pianist George Cables was equally varied in his patterning of chording rhythms and fluid single-note lines.

The repertoire included a couple of Harper's most rousing anthems, the opener "Capra Black" and the waltz "Croquet Ballet." There was McBee's contemplative "Peacemaker," Cables's "Sweet Rita's Suite Pt. II," Wayne Shorter's "Free for All," and Hubbard's "The Core." That last was perhaps the most ferocious tune of the set, in an evening full of sublime intensity.

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