The Turning Point Cafe
Piermont, New York
September 22, 2008
During some inspired moments towards the end of an hour-long set, tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon lumbered across the stage, crouched low, the bell of the horn nearly pointed at the ground. Earthbound and restless in equal measure, the recurring gesture was an apt representation of his solo style. Weldon took charge of the music in ways that weren't excessive, overblown, or indifferent to what was going on around him. Unlike legions of modern tenor stylists who sound as if endurance is an aesthetic virtue, Weldon played as many choruses as it took to fashion a coherent statement, and no more. He utilized an accessible vocabulary, organized his thoughts well and in ways that didn't impede spontaneity, and often employed silence as punctuation. Most importantly, despite the inherent solidity of his work, Weldon managed to keep the listener guessing about what was coming around the next bend.
Weldon and fellow tenor man John Richmond spurred a medium-to-up tempo rendition of the Jule Styne's "Just in Time." The leader offered angular phrases that ended in just the right places. A slurred interlude led to a steady flow of notes. The momentum evinced a determined, march-like feel which was broken up by a quote from "If I Should Lose You." Richmond began by spreading out a couple of sour tones and then spoke up in hard, chiseled lines, a descending phrase, and some ecstatic screams. After solos by guitarist Ed MacEachen and bassist Mike McGuirk, the two tenors challenged one another with a chorus of intense four bar trades.
The leader's impressive turn on Jerome Kern's "Sweet and Lovely" covered a lot of ground. A relaxed beginning was shattered by a wicked bebop run. Pointed, rapid-fire licks were tied to sustained, elephantine tones. As the rhythm section locked in tightly behind him, Weldon became more expansive, pushing and shoving against the solid foundation, and then turning crisp and lyrical.
"For the hard-core jazz fans," Weldon intoned, tongue in cheek, "A little Robert Goulet for you." His rendition of the head of "If I Should Lose You" was breathtaking. Weldon's liberties fell short of disfiguring the melody. Utilizing the lower end of the tenor's range, he blew long, somber tones. Moving into the upper reaches, the notes impatiently leapt from the horn. Throughout a chorus of eight-bar exchanges with MacEachen, Weldon was hard and unyielding. The guitarist's offerings were precise, measured, and much less volatile. Deftly mixing gentle, bubbling chords and spiky, cleanly executed single note lines, he followed with an extended improvisation over the rhythm section's Latin and straight-ahead jazz grooves. Drummer Tim Horner's solo retained the Latin direction and spread out rhythms across the entire set. He created the impression of speeding up and slowing down before climaxing by way of thrashing Elvin Jones-like beats.
Weldon's take on every tenor player's touchstone, Johnny Green's "Body and Soul," was another one of the set's highlights. As a means of finding his way into the tune, he hit on a series of variationssome were extended; others quite brief. The subsequent improvisation offered temperate, carefully crafted melodies. A long, edgy note dissolved into silence. The venturesome yet resourceful Weldon found more melodies in the horn's upper reaches, executed some abrasive harmonics, before lazy tones led back to a snippet of the song.
Weldon next launched an up-tempo treatment of Jimmy Van Heusen's "It Could Happen to You," the set's final selection. Richmond soloed first, offering some of his most adventurous work of the evening. He made single notes jump out of a thicket of ideas, and freely moved up and down the horn. Everything MacEachen played crackled with life, from driving staccato lines to a question-and-answer phrase, to chords driven by Horner's clearly delineated ride cymbal. After taking a few seconds to get rolling, Weldon exploded and didn't let up. An agitated, brutishly swinging segment gradually morphed into something even-tempered. On their way through the out head, the two tenors mischievously inserted portions of "Fried Bananas" and Frank Loesser's "Slow Boat to China." To the very last note Weldon and company could be counted on to keep 'em guessing.