By C. Andrew-Hovan
Since making his first two records on the independent Iris label back in the early ’90s, Walt Weiskopf has staked a claim as one of the most advanced and iconic tenor saxophonists in jazz. However, even as he went on to record one great record after another for Criss Cross beginning in 1993, Weiskopf remained under the radar of most listeners and seldom even registered on most critics polls.
Over the past several years his profile has risen via regular road work with the group Steely Dan. What is great about this particular role is that within the framework of a popular touring act, there still is plenty of space for Weiskopf to exert himself musically. Although it’s been four long years since his last Criss Cross date, See the Pyramid, Weiskopf has fortunately joined the fold at Posi -Tone and his debut for the label is yet another singular release in his distinguished catalog.
Weiskopf is a talented improviser, but his real strengths have also always come in his compositional genius. This is no less the case with this new effort. And like his greatest work, Weiskopf always sounds best when he fills his ensembles with other lead voices. That signature blend of angular melodies is there at the get -go of “The Path is Narrow,” with Weiskopf’s tenor speaking in tandem with Yotam Silberstein’s guitar. The upbeat vibe of “Like Mike” trades the guitar unison with the vibes of Behn Gillece, reminding one of the great teaming of Weiskopf and Joe Locke on the Criss Cross set Anytown. During his solo, the tenor saxophonist steams forward with a rush of quicksilver ideas that seem to be bursting at the seams. Then the tempo switches to cut time after a restating of the theme, leading to some collective interplay between Weiskopf and Silberstein.
Providing the perfect bookend to complement the previously penned “Song for My Mother,” the lovely “Waltz for Dad” includes a nice melodic hook at the end of the leading phrase. Drummer Donald Edwards a mainstay of the Weiskopf fold for the past several albums, boots things along nicely as pianist Peter Zak makes his own piquant statement with sly backing lines provides by Weiskopf and Gillece.
While Weiskopf is a master of those barn burning tempos, his solo statement on the ballad “Jewel and a Flower” uses space and a breathy attack that suits the mood to a tee. He also takes his time and allows the forward momentum to guide his statements on a gorgeous reworking of Michel Legrand’s “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?”
Over the course of the ten tracks heard here, interest never wanes because Weiskopf so artfully varies his material. His melodies are strong declarations on their own and not just used as a launching pad for the solos. And speaking of solos, they are divided up so as to offer diversity as well, not just the same string of statements from one tune to the next. In fact, the use of collective duet improvisations at the close of several pieces is a stimulating change of pace. It all adds up to yet another strong statement that sits well among Weiskopf’s already heady catalog; one that listeners miss at their own peril.
Track Listing: The Path Is Narrow; Like Mike; Jewel And A Flower; Night Vision; Overdrive; Waltz For Dad; Four Horsemen; Midwinter Night’s Dream; What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?; No Biz.
Personnel: Walt Weiskopf:tenor saxophone; Behn Gillece: vibraphone; Yotam Silberstein: guitar; Peter
Zak: piano; David Wong: bass; Donald Edwards: drums.
Record Label: Posi-Tone Records
Style: Modern Jazz