Walt Weiskopf is a “man of many colors,” to take from the title of one of his previous recordings.
The tenor saxophonist has been featured in the big bands of Buddy Rich and Toshiko Akiyoshi.
His diverse sideman credits include work with Frank Sinatra, Steely Dan and Steve Smith’s Jazz Legacy.
His instruction books like “Intervallic Improvisation” have been used and recommended by saxophone greats James Moody and Michael Brecker for broadening the horizons of jazz improvisation.
Weiskopf has passed his knowledge along as instructor at the Eastman School, Temple University, and starting this Fall at New Jersey City University.
But to hear Walt Weiskopf play is simply the main event. His new recording, Overdrive, from Posi-Tone Records, provides us with an energized listen to the art of improvisation.
He’s assembled a sextet for his 13th recording as leader, with vibraphonist Behn Gillece, bassist David Wong, guitarist Yotam Silberstein, drummer Donald Edwards and pianist Peter Zak, featured on two previous Weiskopf outings, “See The Pyramid” and “Day In Night Out” (Criss Cross).
“Overdrive” is made up of all Weiskopf originals save one.
“The Path Is Narrow,” with the opening statement in tandem from the leader and guitarist Silberstein, sets a wide open head bobbin’ pace for pianist Zak to show his stuff. Weiskopf demonstrates his is a pent up house waiting to be heard.
I suspect “Like Mike” to be a tribute to Michael Brecker. This original blisters with the tenorist setting a furious pace. The group delights in keeping up, with Silberstein showing his guitar mettle at the out.
Walt shows us how pretty a tenor saxophone sounds on his “Jewel And A Flower”. It gives the listener some soft pretty moments to ponder.
“Night Vision” is a 20/20 listen to exploring what’s ahead, though unknown, making us want to be part of the journey. The leader hands off to some nice moments with Gillece’s vibraphone and Siberstein’s guitar.
Zak’s piano chops are first rate. Bassist David Wong takes us further, showing this group knew the route all along.
The angular title track, “Overdrive”, with it’s stop time intro shows the muscle of Weiskopf’s playing, inventive chops cutting a path the rest of the musicians thoroughly enjoy taking.
The relaxed feel of “Waltz For Dad” is a group dance, highlighted by Gillece’s Bobby Hutcherson feel, leading into some further sax steps as piano, bass and drums show us some new moves too.
“Four Horsemen” has these six riders at full speed, with Zak’s piano in a gallop, the leader playing with abandon, Gillece’s vibraphone neck and neck and the listener holding on for more.
A “Manteca”-like riff opens “Midwinter Night’s Dream.” No cold feet here as Weiskopf’s hearty blowing is surrounded by the fire of the vibraphonist and pianist. Wong’s bottom and drummer Edwards make this dream come true.
“I don’t see a point for me doing a standard on a record unless there’s some kind of different sound or spin to it,” Weiskopf has said before.
“What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life” was composed by Michel Legrand with lyrics from Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Weiskopf’s arrangement gives this gem a latin feel for the group to cover some new ground. Once again the saxophonist shows his agility in making a standard his own.
“No Biz” closes the date with a straight ahead blowing statement, the kind a band plays when they want you to stay for the next set. I’m sure you will.
“Overdrive” comes out June 10th, just as Weiskopf gears up for a summer long tour with Steely Dan.
– Gary Walker, WBGO music director