Walt Weiskopf - European Quartet Worldwide

Label: Orenda Records, 2019

Personnel - Walt Weiskopf: tenor saxophone; Carl Winther: piano; Andreas Lang: bass; Anders Mogensen: drums.

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American tenor saxophonist and composer Walt Weiskopf has been around since the ’80s, the time he started to be noticed after integrating the big band of Buddy Rich and stinting with the pair Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin. Soon, he forged his own path as a leader, recording more than 20 albums alongside distinctive musical personalities that include bassists Jay Anderson and Peter Washington, drummers Jeff Hirshfield and Billy Drummond, and, in occasion, guitarist Peter Bernstein and pianists Renee Rosnes and Brad Mehldau. Since 2003, he has been a constant presence in the rock band Steely Dan.

His second album on the Orenda imprint is called European Quartet Worldwide, the follow up to last year’s European Quartet. The group signals one alteration, with Daniel Franck being replaced by Andreas Lang on the bass, while pianist Carl Winther and drummer Anders Mogensen remain in their positions.

The word worldwide in the title is not misleading since the saxophonist makes reference to countries like Uganda, Brazil, Scotland, Russia and Japan on selected tunes of a 10-track album that includes eight originals along with personal interpretations of esteemed numbers such as Todd Dameron’s ballad “Soultrane” and Quincy Jones’ “The Pawnbrocker”, the main theme of Sidney Lumet’s classic film of the same name. On the latter piece, Weiskopf immerses himself in the melody, only stretching out in the final vamp.

Swinging with fortitude, “Russian Roulette” and “Coat of Arms” come loaded with Coltrane-style figures, whereas “Marcie by Moonlight”, with a groove inspired on the first chord change of “Stella by Starlight”, was conveniently retitled and dedicated to Weiskopf’s wife. During the piano solo, Mogensen insists on a cymbal continuum that feels a bit prosaic, yet the song aligns with softness in the melody and coolness in the harmonization.

With a sensitive and far-reaching approach, “Back in Brazil” exteriorizes a bit of that South American flavor without steeping too much in the bossa tradition, while the saddened “Scottish Folk Song” waltzes at a relaxed tempo, articulating beautiful bass-sax unisons and delivering solos from piano and bass.

The album’s most striking numbers are the leadoff track, “Entebbe”, and its follower, “Back in Japan”. The former embarks on a full-steamed, high-energy post-bop that imagines Uganda in a two-section structure (the A section grooves in seven and the B in five), while the latter, conjuring up evocative images from the Land of the Rising Sun, appears in the form of a post-bop thrill whose Eastern-infused melody connects to that specific culture. Both tunes feature the bandleader, who fuels his improvisations with outside boldness and vigorous timbre, keeping the listener engaged.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Entebbe ► 02 - Back in Japan ► 09 - Scottish Folk Song