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Saturday, April 2, 2011

CD Review: Walt Weiskopf Quartet

CD Title: WALT WEISKOPF QUARTET: Recorded Live At Koger Hall, University Of South Carolina, April 8, 2008

Year: 2011

Record Label: CAPRI Records

Style: Contemporary Jazz

Musicians: Walt Weiskopf - Tenor Saxophone; Renee Rosnes - Piano; Paul Gill - Bass; Tony Reedus - Drums.
Tenor Saxophonist
Walt Weiskopf

Review: The initial striking impressions you get of this quartet are, its 'fresh' sound, modernity and originality, due in large part to five of the eight tracks on the CD being new material composed by the leader, tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf.

A jazz lover who can spot, and appreciates exceptional tenor chops, will not be disappointed with Walt Weiskopf. He simply leans in, and blows. His playing style is energetic, full and crystal clear, as is exemplified on the CD's four opening tracks, "Man Of Many Colors," " Little Minor Love Song," Dizzy Spells/Jay Walking" and "Blues In The Day." On this date with Weiskopf are: Renee Rosnes - Piano; Paul Gill - Bass and Tony Reedus - Drums.

This coterie of musicians has traveled an interestingly synchronistic path; with New York City emerging as a serendipitous locus for their professional growth, maturity and career opportunities.

Now, on this April night in 2008, they arrived together at Koger Hall, University of South Carolina, to celebrate the last night of the Bi-Annual North American Saxophone Alliance Convention. Ironically, it would be the final gathering of this particular quartet: A reprise cruelly precluded by the untimely passing, just months later, of drummer Tony Reedus.

These two occurrences serve to stamp this live recording as doubly significant.

A keen listener will be awed immediately by the rhythmic strength and scintillating technique of drummer Tony Reedus. Quite candidly, he is the 'engine' that drives the band, whether it needs to accelerate deftly through "Dizzy Spells/Jay Walking," (track 3) or purr unhurriedly for the traditional "Scottish Folk Song," (track 5), Reedus' playing style is replete with reminiscences of the rolling thunder of Max Roach, the driving force of Kenny Clarke, the tone and interpretive sense of  a Jimmy Cobb.

Canada has produced another exceptional pianist out of the bright light left by Oscar Peterson, in the person of Renee Rosnes. Her keyboard solos on each of the CD's tracks sparkle with diamond-like clarity and are executed with mellifluous panache. She and Weiskopf shine brilliantly on his arrangement of "Scottish Folk Song" (track 5), in which they evoke a feeling of profound nostalgia for this mystical 'land of heroes, mysteries and spectacular scenery,' all the while maintaining a delicate musical balance between jazz idiom and folk genre.There is a palpable yearning for afternoon tea in Glasgow, at the historic Willow Tea Room on Saucaiehall Street, or a visit to beautiful Lake Loch Ness. The entire quartet fit superbly around this Scottish folk song, much to the delight of the engaged audience in attendance.

Bassist Paul Gill is steady, solid and competent almost to the point of having his immense contribution to the proceedings taken for granted; that is, until you run into "Blues In The Day" (track 4) where he displays his smooth, fluid bass lines, and a knack for coolly shadowing Reedus' burning drums.

Rosnes, Reedus and Gill comprise a formidable rhythm section that lends excitement to the dynamic elements of innovation, freedom and daring in Weiskopf's playing.

Weiskopf's interpretation of the 1956 Nat Cole hit, "Blame It On My Youth" (track 6) deserves special mention. His horn elegantly explores and elongates the pathos and melancholy suggested by the song's title, simultaneously giving expression to his own sincerely detailed sensitivities.

Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" (track 7) is a standard for which I have a particular bias, having heard, what I consider the definitive version, played by the 1956 Miles Davis Quintet. Nonetheless, I found this rendition well conceived and with enough playing space for unrestricted spontaneity by the players; and after all, that's what good jazz should be...utterly and uncompromisingly, in the moment!

Finally, comes "Breakdown" (track 8), the last track; a scorcher composed by Weiskopf... a fitting climax; and did they break it down! First the tenor states the theme, setting up Renee Rosnes' fingers as a flying blur, and she blazes through her opening solo. Weiskopf urgently circles back, quickly dispelling any notion of staidness; of playing it safe; abandoning conventional modes of attack; the horn morphing into a screaming colossus of raw power, speed and sound.Tony Reedus joined the pursuit; expanding the tension; giving no ground; daring 'hurricane' Weiskopf to blow him away; in the process, putting on a drum clinic. Ultimately, Weiskopk, Rosnes, Gill and Reedus spent themselves into an enervating, exploding, poly rhythmic unison....and then, like most wonderful happenings, it was over!

Drummer Tony Reedus
In the CD's liner notes, Walt Weiskopf commented that, originally it was recorded for "archival purposes," but on learning of Tony Reedus' untimely passing he was "inspired to go back to South Carolina to mix and master the concert, in the hope it could be released as a CD." There is no doubt the jazz community has suffered a great loss with the passing of such a stellar drummer as Tony Reedus so young in his years; but the spirit and vitality he left in this CD will be an enduring legacy for an artist described by his peers as "an unsung hero in the world of jazz."

And so, as Charlie "Yardbird" Parker was wont to say "...give this man all the stars you've got."

Track Listing: Man of Many Colors; Little Minor Love Song; Dizzy Spells/Jay Walking; Blues In The Day; Scottish Folk Song; Blame It On My Youth; Love For Sale; Breakdown.

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