Les Paul, the "Wizard of Waukesha," may be the better-known musician, but the guitarist's spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship is clearly evident in a fellow Waukesha native, drummer Pete Zimmer. Unable to find a studio to record his music, Zimmer founded his own label, frequently featuring other Wisconsinites (Rich Germanson, John Sullivan, Joel Frahm) and, on this date, tenor legend and former teacher George Garzone. Judgment, the third Zimmer-produced project, is a record of the young musician's meteoric development as well as an album of undeniable substance, deserving a place alongside the heavily-promoted projects by heralded current players.
The opener, Garzone's "The Mingus That I Knew," is an encouraging invitation, a sort of medium-tempo "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," offering a fulsome, melodic solo by bassist Sullivan, followed by register-defying turns by Frahm and Garzone, the latter "shattering" the pitch into late Trane-like harmonic fragments before handing the piece back to Zimmer for a serene landing.
Zimmer is no Art Blakey, cracking the whip on his talented troops, but a leader more likely to entrust the reins to his players, complementing their initiatives or offering his own suggestions from "within the music's center. On the opener, he makes his presence felt not only with a final solo that's more summative than exhibitionist but with periodic double-time coupled measures underneath the other solos. On his own neo-boppish "Down or Up," he invokes a muse less beholden to Bu than Philly Joe with crisp, melodic statements over the horns' vamp. A duet featuring him with only Garzone, "8 A. M. Wednesday Spirit," is at once a satisfying Coltrane-like lament suggestive of "Alabama and a striking demonstration of empathy between mentor and protégé.
The centerpiece, Zimmer's "Judgement," a kind of extended blues in G minor, allows pianist Toru Dodo to stretch out on a melodically clean, harmonically adventurous solo before playing some Tyner-like clusters that segue nicely to an animated, invigorating exchange between Garzone and Frahm, both tenor players exhibiting a command of the altissimo register so complete as to make a listener wonder if the alto saxophone is doomed to obsolescence.
Dodo's "Dot Dot is another variation on a minor blues but taken at a slow tempo that allows Michael Rodriguez to take full advantage of his richly-burnished, mid-register trumpet sound, and permits bassist David Wong a thoughtful solo contribution. On "Bye Bye Blackbird" Garzone and Zimmer again go it alone, Garzone practically defying the listener to recognize the chestnut through minimal reference points to the original and employing short, motivic development reminiscent of early '60s Rollins with Billy Higgins.
The closer, Zimmer/Dodo's "Cut Off," is the most conventional tune on the date, a boppish and stylish riff based on "Rhythm" changes, with ample solo space for all hands. As usual, Zimmer exerts an unforced but firm hand on the proceedings, insuring that what could have been a jam session is instead a tight and well-executed set while denying no one their piece. My judgement: everyone wins on this date.
Personnel: George Garzone: tenor saxophone; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet; Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone; Toru Dodo: piano; John Sullivan: bass; David Wong: bass; Pete Zimmer: drums.