The Five A.M. Strut

Recorded last year when the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award winner was only 23 years old, Ezra Weiss' The Five A.M. Strut showcases a marvelously well-crafted mix of jazz in the late-1960s Blue Note mold. Unlike the usual de rigueur college-boy boogaloo--steamtable Hank Mobley and flaccid un-Woody Shaw--the material here reveals strong compositional and excellent arranging instincts. Like many discs by well-studied young jazz players (and this is not a knock), it features a strong showing of Horace Silver/Art Blakey-inspired pimp-shuffles and a certain hardbop blockiness à la McCoy Tyner. But overall it conveys a strong, buoyant momentum, due in part to the absolute commitment and sheer dynamic range of Weiss' sidemen. In addition to highly artful "arranger" piano from the leader, the Portland resident has got in tow the great Billy Hart (drummer with Charles Lloyd, Sonny Fortune, Shirley Horn, etc.), fiery young Antonio Hart on alto, Michael Philip Mossman on trumpet, earthy bass playing from Leon Lee Dorsey, and our own Kelly Roberge on tenor sax. Best surprise (outside of Billy Hart's James Black turn at the drums on the title track) is Weiss' gorgeous ballad writing. Richly evocative and set in extended forms, reminding one at times of Duke Pearson, tunes like "One for Wendell," "A Time for Healing" and "I Regret" are possessed of a heartfelt urgency all too rare in an artist his age.