Criss Cross Jazz
Although he's a monster tenor saxophonist as well as a prolific composer and accomplished arranger, Walt Weiskopf remains largely overlooked and criminally underappreciated. You won't find his name in any of the current jazz encyclopedias or music guides, even though he's had significant sideman stints with Buddy Rich's big band, Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, and Frank Sinatra's orchestra as well as half a dozen excellent CDs as a leader to his credit. The general public may not know his name, but musicians on the scene certainly respect his talent.
On his fourth Criss Cross release, Weiskopf flaunts the same driving, Trane-inspired intensity, fluidity, and lyricism that has marked his tenor playing for two decades. But Sleepless Nights is far more than a showcase for his chops. His broad harmonic palette, along with his intricate, intelligent, and well balanced writing that reflects a passion for the craft, is what distinguishes Weiskopf from hordes of other cats who can blow.
Weiskopf once again calls on his fellow former Buddy Rich bandmates-trombonist Conrad Herwig and alto saxophonist Andy Fusco-to help him realize his personalized, exacting horn voicings. Their chemistry is particularly apparent on the title track, which opens with the three horns unaccompanied. And once again, brother Joel Weiskopf provides the harmonic glue. All the principal players are given plenty of room to stretch out here, and they respond to the harmonic meat in Weiskopf's compositions with some high-level playing. On the whirlwind opener "Inner Loop," with its dizzying head, Herwig turns in a technically astounding, emotionally probing solo. Walt matches his intensity level with an overpowering, transcendent solo of his own while his brother Joel plays it looser and more jaunty, providing a bounce that drummer Billy Drummond instantly picks up on.
As a soloist, Walt deals in deep waters on "Wishing Tree," "Liberian Lullaby" and the Trane-ish "Jazz Folk Song" (indeed, he wrote a book a few years back called Coltrane: A Player's Guide To His Harmony). And his lyrical approach on the ballad "With You, With Me," written for his wife of 14 years, is strictly heartfelt. "Mind's Eye," originally written with a National Endowment grant for a 1993 performance, and the title track both provide good examples of Weiskopf's estimable writing skills while his fresh take on Harold Arlen's "Come Rain or Come Shine," a showcase for the similarly underrated Fusco, is a triumph of arranging.
This is yet another first-rate offering from a major talent.