Andy Fusco Sextet
The concert featuring the Andy Fusco Sextet at Kean University’s (Union, NJ) Wilkins Theatre might have just as easily been billed as the Criss Cross Jazz All Stars. Four members of the band, Fusco on alto saxophone, tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf, pianist Joel Weiskopf, and drummer Billy Drummond, have all recorded under their own names for the venerable, Holland-based label. Moreover, bassist Doug Weiss has played on several Criss Cross sessions. Contributing to a decidedly egalitarian performance was the latitude given to each of the musicians, which also included veteran tenor saxophonist Gary Keller. All hands had ample opportunity to display their talents, making it seem like a partnership rather than mismatched roles of leader and sidemen.
Although the concert was dedicated to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, the program was a mixture of the compositions of Walt Weiskopf, standards, as well as tunes associated with the two giants of modern jazz. The band opened up in fine fashion with Weiskopf’s “Gone Tomorrow.” The composer set a very high standard for the rest of the soloists, as his convoluted, Coltrane-influenced lines were always resolved in an accessible manner. Weiss played the introduction and melody to “Autumn Leaves,” then yielded to Joel Weiskopf’s turn, which seemed to drift in and out of focus. Fusco proceeded to shake things up with his biting tone and hard direct swing, playing with utmost assurance and seemingly singing directly through the horn.
“Brazilia,” another one of Walt Weiskopf’s compositions, included Keller’s most impressive work of the set. Despite Drummond’s percussive storm behind him, the tenor saxophonist nonetheless chose an amiable approach, playing each note with care and allowing the music to breathe easily. “Grand Central” was in large measure a mock battle between Walt Weiskopf and Fusco, climaxing in frantic eight bar exchanges. A beautiful arrangement of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” featured the two tenors moving around Fusco’s playing of the melody. Joel Weiskopf’s solo was lovely in its use of silence and space, with the speeding up and slowing down of his right hand telling a romantic tale.
Walt Weiskopf’s “Waltz For Judy” featured another animated turn by the tenor saxophonist. His phrases constantly ricocheted off each other, yet still managed to stay grounded and meaningful. Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” was the concert’s final number. Walt Weiskopf seemed out of his element, his lines rushed and running out of steam before they ended. Fusco, however, displayed a firm command of the bop idiom, staying busy without sounding jumbled, becoming stronger and more forceful in a duet with Drummond. Before all three saxophones traded brief phrases and took the tune out, Joel Weiskopf played an equally potent bop-oriented solo, effectively alternating between single note lines and chordal passages.