by Dan Lehner
Audiences at the Newport Jazz Festival are frequently given opportunities to see how radically different a single format can be. For the audiences of the Quad Stage on Sunday morning, it was the vast possibilities of the sextet/septet format, as demonstrated by The Cookers and the Vijay Iyer Sextet. Both groups were fronted by saxophones and trumpets and backed by rhythm sections, but each used their cast of players in distinct ways.
The Cookers were a road map of the history of swinging music: any one of the seven, be it trumpeters David Weiss or Eddie Henderson, saxophonists Billy Harper or Donald Harrison, drummer Billy Hart, bassist Cecil McBee or pianist George Cables, could be found somewhere in the legacy of jazz music from the 60’s to the present day. Right out of the gate on their opener, Harper’s “Capra Black”, they moved from an Africa/brass spirited opening right into Harper’s untamed but soulful blowing and Weiss’ weighty, laid back but precise trumpet soloing. Though the group was powerful in their more searching melodies (like McBee’s “Peace Maker"), the group really shone when they focused on their namesake: mid-to-up tempo swingin’ hard bop. Harper’s “Croquet Ballet”, a big, easily swung number written for trumpeter Lee Morgan, gave the group a rhythm to really ride on and a chance for Harrison to construct a perfectly arced and kinetically exhilarating solo.