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Walt Weiskopf: Anytown

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Although popularity and critics polls speak much to the contrary, saxophonist and composer Walt Weiskopf is one of the most artistic and exceptional jazz musicians around. That he's gone as long as he has without receiving much notice by the jazz press or public at large is undeniably inexplicable. This fact is made even more confounding when one considers that the cerebral and explorative style he has pursued has made other men, such as Joe Lovano and Chris Potter, household names. But it should come to no surprise that while the autonomy allowed him by working for the small Dutch independent Criss Cross is a plus, it certainly doesn't yield the big bucks promotion that comes with a major label deal. None of this seems to hamper Weiskopf's work however, because he remains a very active educator, writer, jazz clinician, and working musician despite his relatively low profile.

Weiskopf's latest set, Anytown, is his fifth for Criss Cross overall and offers somewhat of a departure in that the crew he has chosen to work with brings a different character to the proceedings than what we've heard on previous efforts for the label. For starters, two mainstays from his past albums are missing. Pianist brother Joel has been spelled here by the superbly imaginative Renne Rosnes and regular drummer Billy Drummond has been replaced by the equally ambidextrous Tony Reedus. Rounding out this ensemble are bassist Doug Weiss and vibraphonist Joe Locke and what a wonderful collective spirit they generate on a program of seven Weiskopf originals and one revamped standard.

As with all his recordings, Weiskopf likes to leap from the gates with his opening gambit and the title track here is no exception. A beguiling line full of the twists and turns that mark his best work, the melody is executed brilliantly by Weiskopf and Locke and their blend throughout is highly agreeable. As a superior follow-up to his re-working of a Japanese folk melody on the previous Sleepless Nights, "Scottish Folk Song" moves along in a nice lilting three. And if the previous mention of Weiskopf being a "cerebral" type of player leads you to believe he's all technique and no heart, then go straight to the ballad "Adrienne," where his breathy tone and quiet lyricism is touching in its beauty. Rounding things out, we also get the up tempo burn-out that comes with "Blues in the Day" and "Breakdown."

As strong as his writing is, Weiskopf is also a master saxophonist with a fluid approach that includes the kinds of rapid arpeggios and guttural wails that mark the work of Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane's "sheets of sound" approach. Locke has proven to be the up-and-coming vibraphonist on the scene with a technical virtuosity and musical wisdom beyond his years, while Rosnes continues to impress this reviewer with a talent that's deserving of much wider recognition. Weiss and Reedus also do their part to keep things rolling and the latter spurs Weiskopf on in ways that only Drummond had previously been able to do. Taken as a whole, Anytown is another successful effort from Weiskopf and it possesses the kind of integrity and enduring brilliance that will mark it as a classic for now and years to come.

Track Listing: Anytown, Scottish Folk Song, Blues in the Day, Adrienne, Love for Sale, King Midas, Grand Delusion, Breakdown (59:12)

Personnel: Walt Weiskopf- tenor saxophone, Joe Locke- vibraphone, Renee Rosnes- piano, Doug Weiss- bass, Tony Reedus- drums

Record Label: Criss Cross

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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