It is difficult to remark something about The Cookers: all its members are big figures from the XX Century jazz and they all showed why, although George Cables, the original pianist of the ensemble, was substituted by Danny Grisset, fantastic on his job and way younger that anyone was with him at the stage. However, the core of The Cookers seems to be Billy Hart, one of the most creative and mad jazz drummers I’ve seen in my life, as well as Billy Harper on the saxophone and Eddie Henderson on the trumpet. But it is unfair to highlight them without taking on account that The Cookers, above everything, are a group. And they are aware of it: despite some technical sound problems, The Cookers sounded more coordinated that most of the modern jazz ensembles there are nowadays. Their wonderful, vivacious and masterful performance was not only proof that legends are legends for a reason, but also (and according to many people of the devoted audience), probably the best concert of the season.
Presenting their 2016 album The Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart, most of the concert was grounded on their compositions, as well as a couple of jazz standards. However, and as an anecdote, one of the two standards they played was ‘Crocket Ballet’, of Lee Morgan’s last album that was composed originally by Billy Harper. The Cookers play their songs even when they are not playing their songs.
Of their “official” songs, the lyrical ‘Peace Maker’, ‘Slipping and Sliding’ (a blues with a twist, in their own words) and the tender ballad ‘If One Could See’ were especially notable, but it is important to note that all the tunes they played would have been the peak of any normal jazz concert. Their compositions (mainly by Billy Harper and the elder bassist Cecil McBee) allow them to improvise as much as they want: in the line of the best hard-bop, they are long, fast, and with a slight touch of craziness.
The Cookers know what jazz is about. Even though Southampton is just a minor stop for all the bands that come, this is the first time here I go to a concert in which the band enjoys itself so much. The Cookers, though old, seem more alive that most of the new, emergent figures of jazz. It’s always great to say that you saw legends such as Billy Harper or Billy Hart live, but what is even greater (and at the same time, a bit depressing, for they are far from being at their prime) is to say that they were among the best you’ve ever seen.