Fourteen years after he first scraped together a few thousand bucks to record the late, beloved, local jazz guru Ross Taggart, Cory Weeds has hit another milestone in his career as a Canadian jazz impresario.
The label he founded with that recording, Cellar Live Records, will release its 100th album in April and, fittingly, it features Weeds himself as bandleader.
In fact, Condition Blue: The Music of Jackie McLean features the very same band Weeds recorded his first album with as leader back in 2008: the New York-based trio of Mike LeDonne (Benny Golson, Milt Jackson) on Hammond B3 organ, Peter Bernstein (Joshua Redman, Diana Krall, Brad Mehldau) on guitar, and Joe Farnsworth (Cecil Payne, Diana Krall, Pharoah Sanders) on drums.
The album is a flawless team effort, with saxophonist Weeds ever the generous front man. Despite making a record of sax compositions by the late sax guru and Downbeat Hall of Famer Jackie McLean, Weeds pulls away from the microphone plenty of times on each track to let his A-list band-mates show off their chops. Bernstein’s fret-work gives major feeling to numbers such as “Slumber”‘ “Bluesanova” and the title track. LeDonne’s B3 rocks on “Snuff”, swings on “Das Dat” and rhythmically duels with Weeds’ sax on “Marilyn’s Dilemma”. And Farnsworth gets a wicked groove on on tracks such as “Jacknife”.
But when Weeds retakes the lead, he throws down the gauntlet again and again, laying down blistering sax lines on tracks such as “Snuff”; swinging on “Jacknife” and “Capuchin Swing” and playing tender, wistful passages on “My Old Flame”.
Condition Blue: The Music of Jackie McLean is more than just an artistic triumph for Weeds, though.
It’s also the latest milestone in his career as a jazz “Renaissance man”‘ during which he’s performed Order of Canada-worthy feats of service to the Canadian jazz world.
After earning early acclaim as a player for his work with Spacious Couch, People Playing Music and Crash, Weeds founded the Cellar Jazz club in 2000 and won recognition for it as one of Downbeat Magazine’s Top 100 Jazz Clubs in the World.
The club provided a classy listening room both for Vancouver’s many talented jazz musicians, and for touring artists from around the world.
From the Cellar grew Cellar Live, which has earned two Juno nominations – for albums by Weeds and Jodi Proznick respectively – and has been named Label of the Year at the National Jazz Awards.
The imprint has put out records by musicians from across North America – Weeds’ band-mates on this album among them – but its biggest contribution to the world of jazz has been providing a recording home for the West Coast’s own overflowing roster of talent.
Among the well-known West Coast names that have released albums on Cellar Live: Juno-winning trumpeter and pianist Brad Turner; saxophonist Mike Allen; Juno-nominated bassist Jodi Proznick and Juno-winning bassist Chris Tarry; pianists Amanda Tosoff, Tilden Webb, Chris Gestrin and Miles Black; guitarist Bill Coon; and drummer Dave Robbins.
In addition to launching Cellar Live Records and the Cellar Jazz Club, Weeds has hosted several jazz radio programs. After closing the club in 2014, he founded the Cellar Jazz Society to carry on promoting high quality jazz events in Vancouver. In January, that Society was taken under the arm of The Coastal Jazz & Blues Society, and Weeds now presents the Cellar Jazz Series under Coastal’s umbrella.