October 26, 2020 @ 9:00 pm – 11:00 pm UTC-7
Wheelhouse is Tom Tallitsch’s fifth outing for Posi-Tone Records (eight overall) from one of the most consistently solid performers in that label’s stable of quality jazz performers. Though this 2018 release again sees the tenor sax master heading up a roster who have led their own notable dates for the label, but this one pairs Tallitsch with a trumpeter for the first time on a Tallitsch record, in the form of the talented Josh Lawrence. Also on board is Jon Davis (piano), Peter Brendler (bass) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums).
Combine the proven quintet format with Tallitsch’s penchant for penning memorable post-bop and hard bop tunes in the classic style, and Wheelhouse is akin to Blue Note pulling out a vintage mid-sixties session from the vault performed by label heroes Paul Chambers, Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock and the like. Even the spotless, analog-warm production by Marc Free evokes Rudy Van Gelder.
Though Tallitsch has been known to throw out an offbeat cover or two in the past, he sticks to all-originals this go around. “Wheelhouse” features a tale of two rhythm patterns, but when it settles into a swing mindset, Tallitsch displays that ingratiating, soulful tenor in full . Not one to leave a wealth of talent idle, Davis, Lawrence and Sperrazza get their own savory features as well. “Schlep City” is a blues-based shuffle where Lawrence’s trumpet spotlight more than recalls Lee Morgan. Sperrazza’s dynamic rhythm-ing drives “Red Eye” along as Tallitsch and Lawrence combine for funky lead lines prior to them taking turns on thoughtful solos.
Brendler’s bass pattern kicks off the slow swinging “Paulus Hook,” which has a melody imbued with melancholy nicely captured by Tallitsch’s aside. “One For Jonny” is a tender ballad, a choice opportunity for Lawrence to show off a lavish affecting tone. He later fills in some harmony behind the leader’s own heartfelt solo. To top it all off, the swaying soul-jazz of “Gas Station Hot Dog” hearkens back to the RnB-soaked numbers once championed by Morgan and Lou Donaldson, and Davis’ crisp lines here as they are everywhere else are delightful throwback to when jazz piano was played with a lot of soulfulness.
Tom Tallitsch’s Wheelhouse is all in a day’s work for this underappreciated tenor saxman, who once again demonstrates the continued vitality of the hard bop form. If that kind of jazz is in your wheelhouse, then this album is sure to be as well.
Tenor saxophonist Tom Tallitsch is an Illinois-bred,
New Jersey-based bandleader and Gratitude is his
seventh album a leader. Tallitsch plays Straightahead
postbop, tossing a few Curve balls to keep things
interesting. He is Of the generation(s) Of players that
doesn’t rely on the Great American Songbook for
material (9 Of the 11 tracks herein are Originals) and he
dips into the rock world for inspiration.
The album opens with “Terrain”, a surging, modal
midtempo tune evoking ’70s McCoy Tyner. Tallitsch
has a notable tone—burly approach of Rollins,
flow of Dexter Gordon and cool of Lester Young, etc.—
but no one influence dominates in a fascinating blend
Of robustness and yearning. Drummer Rudy Royston
kicks up as much dust (and propulsion) as Art Blakey and Jon Davis’ piano is spare, slightly percussive (that
Tyner influence) and possessed of an easy lyricism, He and Tallitsch share a very measured approach. taking
an almost leisurely tack in constructing their solos. Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” might not
seem the kind Of fare a jazz combo might tackle, but Tallitsch shows its majesty. The saxophonist invests
some elegant blues feeling into the proceedings while Davis, Royston and bassist Peter Brendler slyly add a
soul-jazz groove more implied than overt and guest Brian Charette deftly adds slightly gothic-sounding
organ. These lads close out the program with another seemingly unlikely tune, Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You”,
essayed with a gospel feel thanks to organ (especially) and Davis’ sparse, Slightly Thelonious Monk-like
Chords. Tallitsch gets to shine in a poignant manner without ever getting Cloying Or going Over the top.
Gratitude is an album that displays a rare and very engaging balance Of fervor and restraint, expressive
ace musicianship and terseness.
by Mark Keresman – New York City Jazz Record
From the opening seconds of the first track “Terrain”, it’s easy to understand why the new Tom Tallitsch CD, titled “Gratitude” (his 4th for PosiTone Records), is so enjoyable. The music sounds like vintage John Coltrane, circa 1957, powerful yet accessible and played by a band that is on fire. The tenor saxophonist surrounds himself with such great players including pianist Jon Davis, bassist Peter Brendler, and drummer Rudy Royston (organist Brian Charette shows up on 2 of the 11 cuts). My affection for the amazing work of Mr. Royston is no secret and the bassist, one of the more melodic and focussed musicians, is very impressive. Davis, who worked with bassist and composer Jaco Pastorius, is a two-fisted delight, supportive and adventurous.
Tallitsch provides his band with a number of strong vehicles, not only for his rich, blues-drenched, sax but also making sure to give everyone a chance to shine. Listen to how Brendler and Royston drive “Refuge“, their acceleration pulling the sax and pain with them. As is his won’t, the leader does not overplay. He tends to caress melodies instead of roaring through. The group’s take on John Lennon’s “Because” starts slowly and sweetly, building during the saxophone solo and hitting its stride during Davis’s strong solo. The bass counterpoint is also quite nice. Charrette shows up on the other 2 “covers”, “Gold Dust Woman” (by Stevie Nicks) and “Thank You“, one of the few slow tunes on “Led Zeppelin II” (composed by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page). The folky quality of the original version can be felt on the latter track; with the addition of the organ, one hears the influence of The Band. The tenor solo near the close of the tune hews closely to the melody and one can hear the gratitude from the lyrics.
Several of the cuts are really barn-burners. Beside the CD opener, “Alternate Side” fires on all cylinders without overheating. Tallitsch really digs into his solo, romping atop the active cymbal work and the fast-paced “walking” bass lines. A big dollop of funk is the basis for “Rust Belt” – Brendler’s thick foundation and Royston’s snappy snare work set the tone with the leader and pianist playing with great delight. Turn it up and watch the speakers shake. More of that Coltrane/McCoy Tyner power enlivens “Oblivion“, the tension created by the rhythm section is thick but enjoyable.
The soulful sounds of the title track serve as a good reminder that the best music is about melody, rhythm, intelligent interplay, and emotion. Jon Davis’s splendid solo on “Gratitude” has so much soul as does the excellent bass work of Peter Brendler; when Tom Tallitsch enters, he plays with such ecstasy goosed on by the impeccable playing of Rudy Royston. This music sounds so good – engineer Nick O’Toole has such a knack for capturing rhythm sections while not ignoring the front line – and it feels quite good as well. With “Gratitude“, Tom Tallitsch has, arguably, created the best recording of his career. Keep them coming!
Loaded with music borne of several personal situations that are life changing, Tallitsch finds his voice in a new place and takes his impressive past to a new level of the game. With an up and coming murderer’s row of next gen jazz hitters behind him, this thoughtfully swinging set leaps off the disc and shows you just how much variety still lives in the spaces between the eight basic notes. There is smoking jazz alive and well beyond the corporate world and this is a shining example of it. Well done.
Changes Over Time gives the impression that our ears need to prepare for abject nostalgia but that’s rarely the case on this disc. The twelve works – performed to vibrant effect by Jon Davis, and Davis’ colleagues – Ugonna Okegwo and Jochen Rueckert – go down well beyond the sentimental sonorities, exploring myriad moods and registrations.
For celebratory brightness, there’s Mal Waldron’s Soul Eyes and Just For Fun, which is followed by the contrasting melancholia of the pianist’s version of Las Olas, a beautifully poetic chart that, when played, conjures up visions of the pirouetting and leaping movements of a ballet dancer before the dénouement of the piece touches the heart-strings. Other songs have powerful and expansive narratives that result in the manifestations of imposing manifestations and a panoply of instrumental colours. So vivid are these colours that it feels as if this extraordinary pianist is indulging in muted vocalisations on his beloved instrument.
The piano welcomes partners in Okegwo and Rueckert, a jazzy and lyrical teaming of bass and drums which unites those rhythm instruments with the grand stylistics of the piano. Jon Davis is such a lyrical player himself that it isn’t hard to feel the ‘singing’ quality of his playing. The urgent dramaturgy of his music goes against the pastoral grain of his paginations of the vertical integrations of chord and melodic lines. His touch is flawless and his dynamic is fluttering and delicate. Despite this sensitivity Davis makes use of sinuous ornaments and majestic voicing. Davis provides a vast timbral playground, deftly rendered by his musicianship notably his brilliant instrumentalism (displayed with stunning effect on the solo version of the Beatles Yesterday), all of which is exquisitely captured by producer Marc Free and his trusted engineer Nick O’Toole.
These performances are models of vibrancy and control. The notables (songs) on this recording could hardly have better champions than Jon Davis, Ugonna Okegwo and Jochen Rueckert. The recording of each of these songs captures the grandeur and character – in all its subtlety – of the three virtuosos. Well done Posi-Tone Records.
Track List: Soul Eyes; Just For Fun; Las Olas; Changes Over Time; Yesterday; Klutz; Jazz Vampire; The Peacocks; It’s For Free; My Cherie Amour; Slowly But Surely; Waltz For U.
Personnel: Jon Davis: piano; Ugonna Okegwo: bass: Jochen Rueckert: drums.
Label: Posi-Tone Records
Release date: December 2015
Running time: 54:30
Jon Davis – Changes Over Time (Posi-Tone, 2016)
Pianist Jon Davis has performed in a wide variety of settings from rockish fusion to big bands and jam sessions. On this recording he leads a fine mainstream trio with Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Jochen Rueckert on drums. They open the album with the classic Mal Waldron composition “Soul Eyes” with the band taking the music at a medium loping tempo. The music is played in a very classy and melodic fashion and the band has a rich sound that takes up quite a bit of space. “Just For Fun” has a subtle cymbal rhythm from Rueckert leading Davis to respond with strong percussive piano that drives the band forward and swings hard with rippling and confident playing from the keyboard. There is an excellent bright sound to this performance that carries through to the end. The title track “Changes Over Time” has some excellent thick bass from Okegwo and develops a bouncy and funky vibe, with the trio playing jazz that is expressive and straightforward with good humor. Rueckert has a short drum interlude, before Davis takes command with hard charging deeply percussive and commanding piano that drives the performance to its conclusion. The wonderfully titled “Jazz Vampire” has Davis taking a slow solo opening probing the music before the bass and drums enter and begin to ramp up the pace. Davis leads with some fast rippling piano and the bass and drums respond making for a full band breakout and an electrifying performance. “It’s for Free” bumps things up again with a nice rhythm from drums and excellent insistent and propulsive bass pushing everything forward, and Davis develops a powerful touch that is akin to McCoy Tyner’s early 70’s recordings, layering a blizzard of notes over the proceedings. This was a very well done and accessible mainstream jazz album. Davis has a powerful and exciting way of playing that keeps the music moving briskly forward and Okegwo and Rueckert complement him very well, either supplementing or soloing the group works as a united whole and deserves to be heard.