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Andy Fusco: Vortex

David A. Orthmann By

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Vortex, Andy Fusco's fourth release on the SteepleChase imprint in as many years, is cause for celebration. Until recently, recordings by the veteran alto saxophonist as a leader have been few and far between. The date reunites Fusco with tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf, who composed four of the selections and arranged nine of the ten tracks. The Fusco/Weiskopf association began decades ago in the sax section of the Buddy Rich Big Band and eventually resulted in a number of noteworthy discs, mostly under Weiskopf's name, for Criss Cross Jazz.

Weiskopf is a master at fashioning charts for small-to-mid-sized ensembles. His arrangements for Vortex radiate enthusiasm as well as the wisdom of decades of experience. Weiskopf finds ingenious ways of voicing four horns (his tenor, Fusco's alto, Joe Magnarelli's trumpet and John Mosca's trombone) on the core material, as well as deftly integrating riffs and longer written figures into some of the improvised solos. Part of the fun of listening to the record is discovering the placement and the degrees of emphasis in the lines he writes for the soloists or when he chooses to leave the players to an exemplary rhythm section comprised of pianist Peter Zak, bassist Mike Karn and drummer Jason Tiemann.

Weiskopf's treatments of jazz standards by Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea and Grant Green, a couple of Great American Songbook favorites and his own compositions are novel yet never twist the songs beyond recognition. There's an impressive synergy between Fusco's alto and Weiskopf's arrangement on the head of the ballad "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most." As a whole the record is well organized and rich in detail, yet each track retains some the loose-limbed quality of a combo playing a late-night club set for themselves and a few aficionados.

Apart from shining a spotlight on Fusco, an extended analysis of the soloists' virtues is beyond the scope of this review. Suffice it to say that each man has a distinct voice and makes essential contributions to the record. Fusco possesses a tart, live wire tone and almost every note feels urgent and animated. His vocabulary is an invigorating extension of the bebop lexicon, with nods to Charlie Parker and Jackie McLean. Flinging short, disparate phrases into the air and miraculously forging connections between them, there's often an unhinged, thrill-ride quality to his playing. Even in the midst of a profuse, jam packed statement, Fusco never eclipses the rhythm section. Portions of "Matador" and "All Or Nothing At All" are good examples of him laying back a bit, each note firmly in place and joined to Zak, Karn and Tiemann.

Is it too much to ask that Fusco and this group make an appearance outside of the confines of the recording studio? Probably. From start to finish, Vortex is an exhilarating record.

Track Listing: Vortex; Friends And Neighbors; Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most; Matador; When Lights Are Low; Desperado; In Your Own Sweet Way; All Or Nothing At All; Tailspin; Windows.

Personnel: Andy Fusco: alto saxophone; Walt Wekskopf: tenor saxophone; Joe Magnarelli: trumpet; John Mosca: trombone; Peter Zak: piano; Mike Karn: bass; Jason Tiemann: drums.

Title: Vortex | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: SteepleChase Records

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