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Walt Weiskopf: Open Road

Blaine Fallis By

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"Premonition" was the perfect opening tune on Walt Weiskopf's Open Road album, because it sets the tone. It even matches the album cover...we're going somewhere fast, barely able to quite focus in due to the speed. But it's exciting!

Bassist Mike Karn drives the band until 1:45 when he and pianist Peter Zak suddenly drop out, and the duo of Weiskopf and drummer Steve Fidyk keep pushing forward, as if during a high-speed corner two passengers couldn't hold on and just fell out. Maybe it was Fidyk's complex three over two riff that did it. But Weiskopf is freed up to take off on an improvisatory spectacle that paints the story of his great talent, and the many saxophonists he has absorbed throughout his long and laudable pro career.

The title track takes it a step further pushing the tempo above 130 and everyone is along for the ride, including an enticing piano solo backed by drum sticks and flurries.

Weiskopf penned all but two of the twelve songs on the album, which range from tight modern bebop, to the satisfying, wholesome ballad of "Angel Eyes," which lends itself to so much rhythmic interplay at slow tempo, as Zak plays an engaging interlude mid-song, before Weiskopf surrenders the tune in an intervallic flurry, with Zak there to draw the final curtain. "This is one of my favorite ballads to play; I learned it working with Frank Sinatra. He began each rendition singing the bridge; "Drink up, all you people."

"Electroshock" is a burner with a complex, tight head followed by a raging 16th-note flurry of a piano venture with Karn and Fidyk barely keeping up. Again with the Open Road theme.

"Tricycle" sure feels in six but we all know it's still three, and the tune gives a classic feel to the album, because classics always include 3/4 tunes such as "My Favorite Things." "Gates of Madrid" is probably in fact written in six, but comes in from more of a McCoy Tyner syncopated angle. All totalled, we have a rich display of jazz at its finest on Open Road.

The quartet is full of top pro-level playing from whatever angle you look. But it starts at the top, with Weiskopf unashamedly declaring that tenor sax is here to stay.

Weiskopf might now be best known as Steely Dan's saxophonist, but that is but a particle of his storied career which spans from the Buddy Rich Big Band, and his 14-year engagement with pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, when he toured the USA, Japan and Europe and was part of seven recordings with her, to his tutelage under clarinetist Leon Russianoff when he earned his M.A. in clarinet and still plays in classical orchestras. He is the author of six important books on advanced improvisation, and after several teaching positions is currently the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at New Jersey City University.

Track Listing: Premonition; Let's Spend the Day Together; Open Road; Nancy (With the Laughing Face); Gates of Madrid; Stage Whisper; Invitation to the Dance; Tricycle; Chronology; Angel Eyes; Electroshock; Leaves of Grass.

Personnel: Walt Weiskopf: Tenor Saxophone; Peter Zak: Piano; Mike Karn: Bass; Steve Fidyk: Drums.

Title: Open Road | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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