There is no doubt that Jerry Bergonzi is a technically gifted player. He can tackle even the most complex chord changes at blistering tempos, raining down notes in Coltrane-ish sheets of sound. He has a full, strong tone that softens to a burnished hue on a ballad, and sharpens and intensifies on an uptempo burner.
This is why it is a shame that, despite all the facility, there is very little about Tenor Talk that is enjoyable to listen to. There’s no soul to Bergonzi’s playing; each piece is approached as an exercise. “Hank,” written for Hank Mobley (but which, as the liner notes point out, has nothing to do with the way Mobley played), is angular and awkward. “Soul Mission” is apparently based on the structure of Benny Golson’s “Stablemates,” but Bergonzi admits that “it has nothing to do with that tune harmonically or melodically.” Bergonzi pays tribute to Joe Henderson on “Splurge,” a Latin-tinged, bass-driven takeoff on Henderson’s “Inner Urge” that is by far the highlight of the record, perhaps because Bergonzi is successful at evoking Henderson’s tone.
The star of Tenor Talk is the rhythm section. Pianist Renato Chicco shares Bergonzi’s fondness for sharp lines, but presents them in more rational, melodic formats in his solos. Bassist Dave Santoro and drummer Andrea Michelutti lay down a foundation that wouldn’t sound out of place on a classic Prestige blowing session.