Home Cookin
Release date: November 10, 2023
Label: Cellar Music Group

Home Cookin’ celebrates saxophonist Cory Weeds and his Little Big Band. Weeds’ eleven-piece ensemble features a ‘who’s who’ of all-star Vancouver-based players who beautifully interpret arrangements by renowned jazz artists and arrangers Bill Coon and Jill Townsend as well as two breath-taking original compositions. Weeds’ singular tenor saxophone sound is complemented by pianist Chris Gestrin, bassist John Lee, drummer Jesse Cahill, lead alto saxophonist Steve Kaldestad, tenor saxophonist James Danderer, baritone saxophonist Dave Say, trombonists Brian Harding and Jim Hopson, and trumpeters Brad Turner and Chris Davis.

Cory Weeds’ first Little Big Band release, 2018’s Explosion, showcased some of the bandleader’s favorite musicians from New York City. Home Cookin’ strikes a more personal tone by featuring Weeds’ favorite musicians in his home city of Vancouver. A natural progression from his first Little Big Band release - Home Cookin’ tells a story of the great city of Vancouver and of Weeds’ journey from there and back again.

 

The story behind the recording of Home Cookin is one that underscores the sheer tenacity of the bandleader. In March of 2023, Weeds booked several evenings for the Little Big Band at Frankie’s Jazz Club in Vancouver. The weekend would culminate with the recording of this album at The Warehouse Studios. Weeds recalls: “I put a lot of thought into Home Cookin’ and what would set me and the band up for success. A rehearsal, two nights performing the music live… and then into the studio. It was perfect! What could possibly go wrong?” 

Unfortunately, fate had a different plan for that weekend as it began with the bandleader’s saxophone being stolen. The instrument held immense sentimental value for Weeds, and this paired with the fact that the bandleader had fallen ill earlier in the week, seemed almost insurmountable. “To say I was devastated would be an understatement however, as the old saying goes, “the show must go on.” I jumped into action with the help of saxophonists James Danderfer and Steve Kaldestad to find a playable instrument that would get me through the weekend including the recording… I actually got back in time to rehearse two tunes!” The band played magnificently to sold out houses at Frankie’s Jazz Club and Weeds transcended this unfortunate situation.

From the very first refrains of the opening track, a rendition of Horace Silver’s “Home Cookin”, the eleven-piece ensemble displays a stellar synergy. The Little Big Band seemingly marries the dynamic sensibilities and interplay of a combo with the harmonic intrigue of a big band. Weeds indicates “I’m happy to have two Horace Silver tunes here as he and his late 50’s band has become a huge influence on me. The title track and “Metamorphosis” are two of my favorite Horace tunes. So hip!” 

The recording of “Corner Kisses” is a truly special moment on the album. Composed by Weeds’ father, the tune offers a bright, and yet sentimental moment to the album. “Blossoms in May” is a throwback to Weeds’ very first date as a leader. The track, written for Weeds’ wife, adds a moment of tenderness to the release - with a sultry, lyrical solo from Weeds.

““Lullabye Of The Leaves” comes from one of the albums that is the impetus for this band”, Weeds notes. The bandleader is referring to the classic album Gene Ammons - Late Hour Special featuring arrangements from the great Oliver Nelson. The tour de force of Weeds’s stunning musicality amplified by his personnel and Bill Coon and Jill Townsend’s stunning arrangements places this release with one foot rooted in the hallmark sound of Gene Ammons and one foot pointed toward a bright future, with a singular ensemble sound that has to be heard to be described.

Weeds gives the Little Big Band treatment to pianist Michael Weiss’ “Power Station”, a hard-bop fueled tune which Weeds first encountered while on tour with Weiss. Weeds and Turner swing gracefully over the changes with a tight-pocket accompaniment from Gestrin, Lee and Cahill. Gestrin takes a tremendous solo ending in cleverly-placed harmonic jabs from the horn section carrying the ensemble back into the melody.

Weeds remarks “Thad Jones’ “Thedia” screamed a little big band arrangement to me and Bill Coon made this tricky little tune come to life!” The track highlights the tremendous dynamic range of the ensemble, traversing sonic palettes seamlessly. What other outfit can harken back to Birth of the Cool-era Miles Davis during a tune’s head and then shift dynamics towards the sound of the Cookin-era Miles Davis quintet as soon as the solo section hits? It speaks to the ensemble’s tremendous collective knowledge and respect for the artform, and their acute, individual focus on the group-sound.

Made up of compositions that hold particular meaning for Weeds, this album’s tracks embody the sounds of Vancouver, interpreted by the very artists who help to make it such a vibrant city. Weeds indicates “Given all that happened leading up to this recording I was a bit scared to listen back to it fearing the worst.  What I hear however is myself powering through what was a tough situation, making the best of it and most importantly having fun with my friends.  The music is meant to make you smile and if it does that then I have done my job!”

What Is There To Say?
Release date: November 19, 2021
Label: Cellar Music Group

Cory Weeds, the saxophonist and creative and entrepreneurial force behind Cellar Music Group and its imprints—Cellar LiveCellar Music, and Reel to Real Recordings presents his 18th album release as a leader, What Is There To Say, and first album backed by a string orchestra. Though Weeds headlines and co-produces, he’s tapped saxophonist, pianist, composer, arranger, and bona fide Canadian jazz hero Phil Dwyer as the project’s other co-producer and de-facto music director; in addition to playing piano, Dwyer’s written all of the arrangements here, including those for the accompanying 13-piece string orchestra.

“I grew up kind of idolizing Phil Dwyer,” said the Vancouver-based Weeds who’s become Canada’s preeminent jazz ambassador. “Phil just made everything come off great. He wouldn’t be involved in a project if he didn’t believe in it.”

In order to ensure this would be a project Dwyer would really believe in, Weeds gave his pianist and arranger broad creative authority over all eight tunes here, even Weeds’ own. “I gave Phil carte blanche,” Weeds said. “I said to him, ‘Look, if you don’t like my originals, you are not going to hurt my feelings.’”

As it happened, Dwyer thought enough of Weeds’ originals to want to arrange them.

“Phil said, ‘Oh yeah, I can really make these good. Which, coming from him, was very flattering.” Weeds recalls. “In some ways [What Is There To Say] is almost more of a Phil Dwyer record; it’s really about the arrangements and the writing and the ensemble, rather than the individual playing.”

With the amount of thought and feeling Weeds puts into his own compositions, it’s no surprise they appealed to Dwyer’s sensibilities. Whether it’s a tune written for a longtime benefactor who’d always eschewed public acknowledgement—“Waltz for Someone Special”—or a ballad dedicated to his wife and her steadying equanimity— “Alana Marie”— Weeds is always communicating something personal.

No matter the subject matter, Weeds’ compositions never occur in a vacuum; that’s clear here. Case in point is “Love is Wild,” the last of Weeds’ three originals. It’s a close musical cousin of “Wild is Love,” the standard originally written for Nat King Cole with orchestrations by Nelson Riddle. Weeds heard saxophonist Sam Taylor record a version of the latter on his 2017 Cellar Live release Along the Way. Soon after, that music took up residence in Weeds’ always-churning mind until it became, well, something different—an original, yet also a send-up to Riddle, one of the forefathers of jazz with strings. Once that seed took root, Weeds knew he’d have to nourish it to viability.

“There’s a certain vulnerability with writing,” Weeds says. “Quite frankly, it’s terrifying…Every tune I’ve ever written is an idea that’s lived in my head to the point where if I don’t get it out onto paper, it’s going to make me crazy.”

Familiar faces and built-in chemistry help keep things less crazy, too. Though Weeds has never played with such robust orchestral accompaniment, he’s maintained continuity here by rounding out his rhythm section with bassist John Lee and drummer Jesse Cahill. “I have my people that I like to use when I’m doing a straight-up jazz gig,” says Weeds. “And I didn’t want to change that for this.”

Of course, when a saxophonist of Weeds’ stature puts out a “with strings” album, it’s anything but an ordinary jazz gig. We can all thank Charlie Parker for that. His iconic Charlie Parker with Strings albums threw down the gauntlet and became brass rings for woodwinders. Interestingly, Bird’s recordings were not Weeds’ primary inspiration here. Though, as Weeds found out, their immense stature in the canon makes those recordings hard for a saxophonist to escape.

“The record that really made me want to do a strings record was [baritone saxophonist] Gary Smulyan’s Gary Smulyan with Strings. And in fact, I presented Gary here in Vancouver doing that record. There was something about that sound in particular—I believe they had 12 or maybe 14 strings on that record, and then [at times] they doubled them up. And, actually, we ended up doing that, too, on some of this.

“Oddly enough, while I was recording this record, I got an opportunity to play with the Kamloops [British Columbia] Symphony doing the Bird with Strings music. It was just kind of funny that it all kind of came about when it did. But it was really that Gary Smulyan record—something about that sound.”

And there is something about this sound, too. Weeds and Dwyer clearly doff a cap to the songwriters whose standards were so famously recorded on Bird’s strings album. You’ll note that just as Parker and co. recorded a well-known Vernon Duke and Yip Yarburg tune (“April in Paris”), so, too, have Weeds and Dwyer with the title track, “What Is There To Say.” And just as Bird and co. played the Gershwins (“Summertime,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”), here, too, there’s love shown to George and Ira with the closer, Porgy and Bess’s “There’s a Boat Leavin’ Soon for New York.”

And yet, What Is There To Say? is anything but a baroque reproduction of standards. Dwyer’s string arrangements are crafty, lush, and decidedly contemporary, making for innovative new variations on classic themes.

“[Dwyer’s arrangements]…inspire Cory to search for new and evermore lyrical melodic lines,” writes saxophonist and Cellar Live label-mate Steve Kaldestad in the album’s liner notes, “while also giving him ample space to get lost exploring the nooks and crevasses of the music.”

Take the group’s treatment of Duke Pearson’s “The Phantom,” and notice how Dwyer’s retained the big-collared, prowling coolness of the original while using the strings to ratchet up tension by mixing long, bowed phrases with repeating angular riffs punctuated with winking pops of pizzicato. The relationship between the strings and Weeds’ voicey-yet-cool runs on tenor is a symbiotic one. They lend his lines gravitas; he lends theirs assertive coolness. And then, seamlessly, the piece evolves into a medley, anchored by a version of “The ‘In’ Crowd” that works just as well as Dwyer envisioned.

“I felt that we could pull [“The Phantom”] off,” Weeds recalls. “And Phil was hearing it—and he liked it—but he was hearing something else, too. So he said to me, ‘What would you think about a medley situation going into ‘The In Crowd’? And that’s not really even where I live musically, but when Phil Dwyer says something’s going to work, you listen. Not surprisingly, he did a great job and really kept the spirit of “The Phantom” the way I wanted it, which was awesome.”

 “I Wish You Love” presents a noticeably distinct aesthetic. It’s a bossa-driven ballad with the type of august string introduction that brings to mind Gordon’ Jenkins’ arrangements for Frank Sinatra. All class and majesty.

Meanwhile, the opener, “At Dawning” might be most representative of how simpatico Weeds and Dwyer were in putting the album together. Weeds fell in love with the lyrical ballad when he heard it on At Ease with Coleman Hawkins (1960). “I gave it to Phil,” Weeds recalls, “and he heard [the fit] right away and said, ‘Yeah, this is happening.’”

In hearing Weeds interpret this carefully curated set of compositions, listeners really get to know him for the musician he has become: an expressive saxophonist with a unique and personal voice on his instrument. A visceral strength to his delivery on the tenor, while at times exposing a beautifully honest vulnerability as well. Phil Dwyer’s crafty lush string arrangements inspire Weeds to search for new and ever more lyrical melodic lines while also giving him ample space to get lost exploring the nooks and crevasses of the music. Weeds has compiled some real musical gems on his latest while also contributing an eclectic trio of original compositions to round out an extremely enjoyable musical program.

Home Cookin

CBC EDITOR
CBC
"Weeds honours his actual father, jazz guitarist Bill Weeds, with a tremendously peppy reading of his composition "Corner Kisses," arranged by Coon." Check out the full review here.

ADAM FEIBEL
JAZZFM
"Weeds’ first Little Big Band release, 2018’s Explosion, showcased some of the bandleader’s favourite musicians from New York." Check out the rest of this overview here.

WILL CHERNOFF
RHYTHEM CHANGES
"Home Cookin' is a good time and a tight update on the best of what Cory Weeds brings to the table." Check out the full review here.

MARC MYERS
JAZZ WAX
"You just put this one on and let it sail all the way through. Top-grade work by a swinging band in the Western corner of Canada." Check out the full review here.

JIM HYNES
MAKING A SCENE 
"Weeds and Turner swing gracefully over the changes with the rhythm section stoking the fire." Check out the full review here.

PIERRE GIROUX
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"The album is a testament to the talent of Cory Weeds and his Little Big Band." Check out the full review here.

ALEX DUTILH
RADIO FRANCE
"A natural progression from his debut album for Little Big Band, "Home Cookin'" tells the story of the great city of Vancouver and Cory Weeds' journey back and forth from that city to the present day." Check out the full review in French here.

BOB CRAIG
WRTI
Check out this feature on the editors best of 2023 list here.

MATT MICUCCI
JAZZIZ
Check out this feature on the editors playlist here.

JOE LANG
NEW JERSEY JAZZ SOCIETY 
"Weed’s tenor sax is featured frequently and, as usual, his musicianship is superb. All in all, Home Cookin’ delivers a tasty dish." Read the full review here.

RICK ANDERSON
CD HOTLIST
"I don’t usually like to admit it when I listen to an album based on the cover art, but in this case I’ll confess that I was drawn by the explicitly 1950s-style cover design and typography, which suggested to me that I could expect cool, swinging straight-ahead jazz of the kind I love so well. And sure enough, that’s what I got..." Read the full review here.

DEE DEE McNEIL
MUSICA MEMOIRS
"This is an album of beauty, with great horn arrangements, a solid rhythm section, and with the sparkling talent of Cory Weeds leading the way." Check out the full feature here.

HOWARD MANDEL
DOWNBEAT
"A labor of love and follow-up to Explosion, the 2018 debut of Vancouver-based tenor saxophonist Weeds’ little big band, Home Cookin’ has a comfy vibe." Read the full review here.

JACK BOWERS
ALL ABOUT JAZZ 
'Silver's soulful "Home Cookin'" raises the curtain, and his lively "Metamorphosis" rings it down.' Read the full review here.

GEORGE W. HARRIS
JAZZ WEEKLY
"Big toned tenor Cory Weeds surrounds himself with a “little” small band for a mix of originals and hard boppers." Read the full review here.

What Is There To Say?

JAVON CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON
JAZZ.FM91
Saxophonist and Vancouver jazz impresario Cory Weeds is backed by a 13-piece string orchestra on his new album What is There to Say? Read this announcement here.

 

 

CHRIS SPECTOR
MIDWEST RECORD
"A textbook example of how to do it smooth." Read the full review here.

PATRICK DALLONGEVILLE
PARIS-MOVE
Read this review in French here.

JEFF KROW
AUDIOPHILE AUDITION
"This is a tenor sax with strings release to treasure, and will be one to add to your list of a favorite jazz idiom. Well done!!"  Read the full review here.

 

JIM HYNES
MAKING A SCENE
"Throughout, there is such warmth and expressiveness in Weeds’ flawless lyricism, one can almost see him smiling at the results, while nodding to Dwyer that the project succeeded just as they had envisioned it.." Read the review here.

PIERRE GIROUX
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"This is an attractive addition to the Cory Weeds discography." Read the review here.

CBC MUSIC STAFF
CBC MUSIC
"A gem in the expansive and growing Cellar Jazz catalogue." Read the full Best Canadian Jazz of 2021 list here.

SCOTT YANOW
JAZZIZ
"It all works well." Read the review here.

DEE DEE MCNEIL
MUSICAL MEMOIRS
"I’m blown away by the sweetness of Cory Weeds' latest project." Review here.

CHRIS BABER
JAZZVIEWS
"Weeds' finely balanced tenor sax is exactly what the listener hopes and expects to hear." Read the review here.

TOM GREENLAND
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"Vancouver saxophonist/bandleader/producer/ label head/former jazz club owner Cory Weeds has to be one of the hardest working people in jazz biz." Read the complete review in the June 2022 issue of The New York City Jazz Record here.

PETER HUM
OTTAWA CITIZEN
Read the 10 Best Canadian Jazz Albums of 2022 article here.