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Walt Weiskopf: Man of Many Colors

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Despite the fact that his name doesn’t show up on magazine polls and is equally scarce among those few jazz guide books on the market, make no mistake about the fact that Walt Weiskopf is easily one of the most mature and fully individualistic saxophonists and composers to come along in the last 10 years. Possibly because of the fact that he chooses to work within the mainstream tradition (read: not outlandish enough to appeal to the avant hipsters) and record for the small Dutch-based Criss Cross Jazz label, Weiskopf is not widely known among everyday jazz circles, but it seems that those who have sampled his brilliance are uniformly enthralled with his vociferous approach.

Over the course of six previous Criss Cross releases, Weiskopf has shown that he possesses a keen awareness of his own personal muse, both through his saxophone work and his compositional prowess. In fact, his nonet recordings, Song For My Mother and Siren have been universally lauded by jazz journalists and diehard fans for their resourcefulness and innovation. Man Of Many Colors is somewhat unique in that it is Weiskopf’s first quartet recording since 1995’s A World Away, which featured Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, and Bill Stewart. This time around it’s a piano trio on board, and a fine one that finds Brad Mehldau mixing things up with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Clarence Penn.

Admittedly a Coltrane disciple, Weiskopf’s tenor speaks in long phrases of a multifarious nature, fluidly executed and with a robust timbre that is immediately satisfying. On “NYC”, Penn sets things up for an up-tempo romp that has Weiskopf chomping at the bit from note one. Throwing off series of notes with machine-gun rapidity, Weiskopf engages in a solo statement that can only be described as his own take on “sheets of sound” methodology. Although he can tear up the changes with ferocity, Walt also has a most affecting way in his delivery of ballad material. With both “People” and “Haunted Heart,” he uses space smartly and alternates the clarion call of his upper register with rapid passages that cover the entire range of the instrument.

Previously, Weiskopf has worked with some very strong drummers. Past collaborators like Billy Drummond are used to pushing and prodding a soloist and it is exactly that type of environment that most suits the saxophonist’s forays. Penn is an excellent choice here, as he does much more than merely keep time. “Triangle Dance” is a perfect example of the drummer’s complex interaction with the entire ensemble, switching back and forth between a Latin groove and straightforward swing. Not only does Weiskopf seem to respond positively to the affirmative rhythmical environment, but so too does Mehldau, whose own work as a leader seems to lack so much of the energy and forward momentum that the pianist so efficiently displays here.

On six originals and the two previous mentioned standards, Weiskopf and crew approach things in a manner that makes this so much more than yet another mainstream recital. It’s all about group interaction and individual expression. But those of us who know Weiskopf via past efforts shouldn’t be surprised. What’s left is for a wider circle of fans to get the message.


Track Listing: Triangle Dance, Haunted Heart, Together, Man Of Many Colors, People, NYC, Petal, When Your Lips Meet Mine

Personnel: Walt Weiskopf (tenor sax), Brad Mehldau (piano), John Patitucci (bass), Clarence Penn (drums)

Title: Man of Many Colors | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Criss Cross

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