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Walt Weiskopf: Open Road

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Since 1993, tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf has recorded some of the most advanced and satisfying music of the jazz genre. All told he claims over fifteen albums as a leader, with original compositions forming the core material of each and every one of his releases. The fact that he is not better known among the jazz buying public is simply inexplicable, although his long-standing association with Steely Dan hopefully has been turning a few ears in the direction of Weiskopf's own distinctive muse.

Following his maiden voyage with Posi-Tone, the fabulous Overdrive, comes Walt's sophomore offering for the label and it is a no holds barred quartet date. Usually working with various sized ensembles, Weiskopf only occasionally records in this setting and the open space it provides allows one to really get a sense of his story telling abilities as an improviser. Longtime associate Peter Zak also makes a fine foil to Weiskopf and lends his own personality to the proceedings.

Pieces like the opening "Premonition," "Open Road," and "Electroshock" sport the kind of angular, staccato riffs that are a Weiskopf specialty. They seem to be extensions of his tunes like "Inner Loop" or "Blues in the Day." But while Weiskopf can effortlessly blow endless runs of sixteenth notes, he also knows how to use space and long tones to balance out the equation. Walt does this particularly well on "Invitation to the Dance," where he also trades licks with Steve Fidyk, the drummer's cliché-free returns being another selling point.

The breezy line of "Tricycle," appropriately set in waltz time, recalls the childhood days of Weiskopf's son. Zak impresses with his own crystalline statement and bassist Mike Karn recalls the great Gary Peacock during his brief solo. "The Gates of Madrid" is also in ¾ time. While Weiskopf speaks of its inspiration coming from guitarist Federico Moreno-Torroba, the influence of Wayne Shorter also seems to be a possibility. The lead melody hints at "Juju," while Walt throws in a quote from "Witch Hunt" during his solo. Another standout track, "Stage Whisper" hints at an odd meter before shifting to a backbeat rhythm for the bridge. "Chronology" offers its own character, a bop-inspired line that seems to be a tip of the hat to Parker's "Confirmation."

Weiskopf has gone on record stating that he prefers to feature his own material on his recordings unless he feels he has something new and vital to offer on a given standard. He certainly updates the two he selected here. "Nancy (with the Laughing Face)" is often associated with John Coltrane, but Weiskopf's version has a bit more vigor, while being just as a deep. "Angel Eyes" is four minutes of pure melodic brilliance-one of Weiskopf's best recorded moments!

Considering that these twelve cuts clock in at about an hour and each one runs rarely longer than five minutes, there is a great deal of variety that speaks to the authority that Weiskopf has developed as a leader. It is also advantageous that there are no fade outs on any of the tracks. In this way, a complete story is told, one that often ends with a breathy closing note from Walt himself.

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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