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Walt Weiskopf: Open Road

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If you love a top-notch tenor saxophonist playing at full throttle, Open Road will make you giddy. A stalwart veteran in his mid-50s, Walt Weiskopf does not have the notoriety his combustible talent deserves. He started as an adjunct, toiling in large ensembles for Buddy Rich and Toshiko Akiyoshi and playing behind Frank Sinatra and Steely Dan. After a couple of discs with his pianist brother Joel, he released a spirited string of records for Criss Cross, but they weren’t really lean and mean-a couple were nonets, others had fragrant stylists like pianist Brad Mehldau and organist Larry Goldings-until See the Pyramid put him with a rhythm section featuring pianist Peter Zak in 2010. Open Road repeats that formula to glorious effect, with Zak, drummer Steve Fidyk and bassist Mike Karn buckled in for a thrill ride.

Weiskopf uses just the right elements from the very best role models to inform his style, meshing the kinetic modulations of John Coltrane with the lyrical imagination and tonal daredevilry of Sonny Rollins. The dozen songs on Open Road alternate between untethered hard-bop burners (the odd-numbered tracks) and more gently rambunctious (even-numbered) tunes. These more reflective yet still feisty songs include two covers (Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Nancy [With the Laughing Face]” and the ballad “Angel Eyes”), tributes to Weiskopf’s wife (“Let’s Spend the Day Together”) and son (“Tricycle”), and a filtering of “Autumn Leaves” through Walt Whitman (“Leaves of Grass”).

Good as they are, they can’t match the adrenaline that occurs when Weiskopf clusters crisply articulated notes into breakneck phrases, as on “Premonition,” “Open Road” and “Electroshock,” downshifting into extended notes that linger with sharpened intensity then pivot into another gust. “The Gates of Madrid” may contain the most beautiful, uplifting gust, and the opening riff on “Invitation to the Dance” is the most memorable table-setter, while “Chronology,” for Weiskopf’s father, is perhaps the most garrulous of the burners. When they are all through, your senses still tingle

Originally Published