Ronnie Cuber Still Groovin’


RONNIE CUBER LIVE AT MONTMARTRE / CUBER: Tee’s Bag. THIELEMANS: Bluesette. NOBLE: Cherokee. KLENNER: Just Friends. PARKER: Au Privave. SILVER: Silver’s Serenade. LAURITSEN: Jazz Girls. DAVIS: Four / Ronnie Cuber, bar-sax; Kjeld Lauritsen, Hammond org; Krister Jonsson, gtr; Andreas Svendsen, dm / Storyville 1018458 (live: Copenhagen, November 23-25, 2017)

Once in a while, it’s nice to just hear one of the old-timers from the “soul” era kicking up a storm in a program of jazz standards, and that’s pretty much what we have here. Baritone saxist Ronnie Cuber, a veteran of the Slide Hampton, Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman bands, a member of King Curtis’ R&B group back in the day when they were accompanying Aretha Franklin, and a charter member of the Mingus Big Band since its inception in the early 1990s, is still roaring on his instrument in this wonderful live set from last fall.

But not being subtle doesn’t mean that Cuber isn’t good. On the contrary, his grit, drive and continual adventurousness jump out at you in the first track, his self-composed Tee’s Bag, and continue throughout this live set. This isn’t your West Coast, la-de-da soft, ambient jazz. This is your old-time, go-to-the-club-and-get-wired kind of jazz. Cuber and his little band hit you hard and keep on steamrolling.

My sole complaint is that guitarist Krister Jonsson sounds too much like a rock guitarist in Tee’s Bag, but to be truthful, when you’re playing in an R&B style, you tend to lean that way, and his first solo in Bluesette sounds remarkably like late Django Reinhardt (from his electric period). To be honest, I also wasn’t terribly happy about the fade-out in the first tune, either…in a live set? Somehow, I doubt that they actually faded out in performance.

Cuber’s style is informed by both the blues and hard bop, and at age 75 it’s amazing that he still had the energy and drive of his youth. Indeed, the whole set put me in mind of one of those early-‘60s Blue Note albums that Alfred Lion was cranking out at a record pace. The baritone saxist shows off his bop chops in Ray Noble’s Cherokee and Charlie Parker’s Au Privave, playing complex and inventive lines that remind you why he was in such high demand back in the old days. Jonsson is also outstanding on this track, sounding a bit like Charlie Byrd (my favorite jazz guitarist of the 1950s and ‘60s, after Django’s death).

The Cuber quartet’s roaring version of Just Friends has to be the most butt-kicking performance I’ve ever heard in my life, with kudos to Hammond B3 organist Kjeld Lauritsen for his contribution. The afore-mentioned Au Privave moves with energy and muscle, too, turning Bird’s tune into sharply-etched hard bop lines. Lauritsen is absolutely explosive here, reminding me of the great Barbara Dennerlein. Somehow, I get the impression that Cuber would never make a soft or “ambient” jazz CD!

Silver’s Serenade reminds one of the 1996 album he made with the great pianist, titled The Hardbop Grandpop, although, by Horace Silver standards, this is a fairly laid-back ballad. Cuber’s mostly inventive solo includes a brief lick from Ferde Grofé’s “On the Trail” of his Grand Canyon Suite, and if anything, Lauritsen is even more exciting than the leader. The organist’s original Jazz Girls is a slow blues that uses a lick from the Paul McCartney tune Here, There and Everywhere. The solos are quite good if not up to the astronomical standards of the preceding tracks.

The set, and the CD, concludes with a driving version of Miles Davis’ old ‘50s tune, Four. The band is in fine fettle here, again showing off Cuber’s bop skills and his rhythm section’s indefatigable drive and momentum. Lauritsen’s solo drives the beat, but Jonsson is even better and Cuber plays double time for a few bars before drum breaks throw it to the organist, then the guitarist, then back to the saxist who rides out the melody.

The whole album is an adrenaline rush of the highest order. Even when the solos aren’t quite as creative as the ones preceding, the overall effect is that of a runaway freight train bearing down on your Ford Focus. Get that little poopmobile offa the tracks, Jack!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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