Clarinet is not often associated with leading a jazz ensemble. Mort Weiss proves that it can be done with the first solo jazz clarinet recording, Raising the Bar. The clarinet is placed in the forefront with no other instruments accompanying it. The dexterity and lung capacity of Mort Weiss, who is now in his 70s, is a commendable feat as he glides up and down the clarinet like he was only 20. Weiss understands the nuances of the clarinet: he plays with the tempo, has almost an unending supply of air, and knows how to make the clarinet wail passion.
Weiss includes several classics on Raising the the Bar and the takes on the standards are take innovative steps to play with the original. While Weiss takes the time to incorporate the melody of each classic song, he manages to provide beautiful, fitting tangents giving each song a modern feel. The Chaplin classic "Smile" glides through the song flowing with respect to the original. In contrast, the song "As Time Goes By" popularized by the film Casablanca is fresh, but almost veers too far from the original melody. The classics fit in perfectly with the original works.
One of the standout tracks is "Dear Old Stockholm." The Swedish folk song has been covered by many artists, including Miles Davis, but Weiss' version has a surprising depth for only one clarinet. The speed that Weiss provides in the middle of the track is commendable.
Weiss didn't want to be outdone by the standards and the three original tracks blend in seamlessly. The song "Blues For Hakan," dedicated to his son-in-law Haken Rosengren, is clearly a piece he spent time on. The song hits a passionate high near the end. The next track "Lunch in Navasota" brings up images of . Novasota is known for it's heritage in Blues music and the song matches the history. A notable peak for "Lunch in Navasota" is near the end where the key works slowly upward; it gives a feeling of adventure.
The album ends off perfectly with the classic "My Way" fully symbolizing the journey that Weiss has gone through. Weiss' version has all the passion "My Way" had from Frank Sinatra. The song ends with Mort Weiss talking about giving thanks and wishing peace to everyone. The song is genuine and uplifting with Mort's message talking about all the struggles. While it would have been nice to also have a version of "My Way" without the voice-over, the song contains the most passion out of the whole album.
The more than four decades of experience is showcased beautifully. Weiss mentions in his liner notes that this album may be his last; fortunately, it is a The mix of classic standards and originals creates a sense of enjoyment from beginning to end. The full set list of seventeen tracks ensures that there is something for everyone. The only thing missing from Raising the Bar is the fact that you can't see Mort Weiss working his magic live, feeding off of the energy of the band.