The Turning Point Cafe
March 30, 2009
Forty-five minutes prior to starting time at The Turning Point Cafe, Walt Weiskopf's tenor saxophone stood alone like a statute atop a table right next to the bandstand. Weiskopf is best known for ten recordings as a leader on the Criss Cross Jazz imprint which feature his compositions played by a cohort of some of New York City's significant mainstream players. The big horn's iconic positioning in the club was a sign that the night's performance would be something different. The listener was given the rare opportunity to hear Weiskopf call standard tunes, match wits with a house rhythm section, and blow to his heart's content.
John Richmond, the curator of The Turning Point's Monday night jazz series, has proved that putting together the right combinations of musicians on an impromptu basis can be just as rewarding as the sound of a working band. Tonight was no exception. Stimulated by Turning Point regulars, guitarist John Hart, bassist Bill Moring, and drummer Steve Johns, as well as Richmond's tenor saxophone, Weiskopf delivered an incendiary, hour long set.
Weiskopf gets a hard, no nonsense tone from the horn that grabs hold of the listener and doesn't let go. It's easy to get caught up in the emotional impact and overlook the steely discipline that goes into producing each fully formed note. He offered a variety of sounds that invariably fit into the context of the material and the course of his improvisations. Weiskopf's rendition of the melody of the standard, "Love Walked In" included a number of tart honks. For a time his gritty "Joy Spring" solo sounded like tires on gravel, and low booming tones leapt from the tenor as well.
Each of Weiskopf's solos evinced both a keen, orderly intelligence and a strong will. Regardless of the tempo the searching sound of his horn always stayed in perfect control as he thought his way through every chorus. Weiskopf's unsentimental ballad rendition of "Old Folks" interspersed long rapid runs, a couple of low expansive notes, a single high pitched cry, and ended with variations of the tune's melody. Several trips through the changes of "Con Alma" included blocks of three and four note runs that gradually became more urgent. A single lofty note ended a chorus and a low blast began the next one. Weiskopf's blistering rendition of "Airegin" didn't let up for an instant. Working the entire range of the instrument, he offered evenly cut phrases, sudden changes in velocity, obsessive sounding high notes, as well as ones that were more even tempered.
The contributions of Hart and Richmond, the group's other primary soloists, were interesting in their own ways. Hart has an uncanny ability to fuse seemingly disparate elements into a loosely coherent whole. On "Love Walked In" there was nothing pat or predictable about his juxtaposition of single note lines and chords. Some of Hart's "Old Folks" ideas were deliberately twisted and turned as if he was examining their relative value. At one point notes bubbled up to the surface, seemingly oblivious to everything else that was going on.
Throughout the set Richmond rewarded careful listening. The edgy beginning to his "Joy Spring" improvisation suddenly turned dour. A series of rapid fire phrases led to earnest, painstaking development. One broad note stood out in the middle of a brisk run. Richmond was particularly comfortable with the swift tempo of "Airegin," easily finding melodies and using two and three note phrases to break up a particularly long, notey passage.
Moring and Johns made for an exemplary bass and drums team, providing a rock solid foundation and eschewing any extraneous movement. Johns didn't comment much during any of the soloists' dense, busy passages, and he knew how to fill up empty space. When Richmond manipulated a phrase during "Love Walked In," moving it round and round and finally letting it loose, the crackle of drummer's snare drum answered him. Johns's repeated striking of the floor tom-tom during Richmond's "Joy Spring" solo was startling, yet it didn't come off as a disruption. The bassist and drummer were at their best throughout the demanding pace of "Airegin." Showing no signs of strain, their deeply focused swing was an essential element in bringing the set to an exciting and deeply satisfying conclusion.