Wednesday, March 3, 2010
The Love For One Orange: Cecil Brooks III, Keeping Jazz Alive In Jersey
New York, New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City, and....West Orange, New Jersey?
Yeah, I guess The Oranges are not exactly the hotbed you had in mind for some hard bop and swing. And unless you make your way to a snug little suburban block just a few hundred yards off the main drag and slip inside Cecil's Jazz Club, as I recently did, you might still need convincing.
Hard hitting drummer Cecil Brooks III, who has recorded with such jazz greats as John Hicks, Geri Allen, Greg Osby and Don Braden, owns this unprententious room, housed in...well...a house, where he and his wife Adreena, who keeps this wonderful scene for music and food in order, reside above. Mr. Brooks usually employs himself and his band on Mondays and Thursdays, with the occasional weekend thrown in for good measure, and that's when I got to see this powerful set of music.
I was invited by a friend of a friend, and I was immediately intrigued by the room and its location. Plus, if you've heard Cecil Brooks III play, especially on his "Live At Sweet Basil" release, you really wouldn't need much else to kick your butt into gear.
The room was friendly and warm, and Adreena was the same, entertaining us with a small tour of the wall of photos showing off the many musicians who have graced the stage. The pic of Bill Cosby seemed to tickle Adreena most.
But it was Brooks and his young trio of outstanding musicians that really knocked me out. Brandon McCune on piano, Calvin Jones on bass, and Freddie Hendrix on trumpet and flugelhorn played music as much for themselves as it was for the audience. In a set that began at 9:10 and continued at a relentless pace for almost 75 minutes, the band never wasted a minute. It was a seamless exercise in improvisation that rarely missed the bullseye.
From the bashing workout of Juan Tizol's oft-played, but never boring "Caravan," right on to a slick, sexy and almost greasy reworking of The Stylistics' "People Make The World Go 'Round," Cecil Brooks and these young phenoms, watched each other, felt each other and let each other breathe. It was jazz for people who love jazz. The band knew they had to entertain, but they weren't second guessing the crowd or handing us easy pills to swallow. These masters were working and they made us work, as well. It was refreshing. The musicians, often battling for respect themselves, showed us nothing but and never pandered.
(Got that, Wynton?)
Brooks would often grunt with approval from behind the kit, when Brandon McCune found a groove that suited Cecil's particular needs at that moment. As the rhythm section found their pocket, Freddie Hendrix, who spent the time he wasn't playing the trumpet, off to the side, looking for his own place to drop in, would slowly emerge from the dark and hop up onto stage to speak his mind. Sometimes, he wouldn't bother with the stage. He'd just blow from the bar stool. This band cooked.
Please go check out Cecil's place. It'll make you like Jersey...at least for a couple of hours.
Here's a killer version of, what else, the "Theme From Mannix," off Cecil Brooks III's most recent release, "Hot Dog." Please buy it.
THEME FROM "MANNIX"