Walt Weiskopf Quartet – Live

Saxophonist and composer Walt Weiskopf‘s got over 15 albums as a leader out there, but Live marks his first live recording. Together with pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Paul Gill and the late drummer Tony Reedus, the Eastman School of Music grad takes to the stage at the University of South Carolina’s Roger Hall with gusto.

The record is dedicated to the memory of Reedus, a drummer Weiskopf recalls as “the best jazz drummer I ever knew.” The style with which Reedus commands the drums is clear from the get-go and he fits the quartet like a glove, always rising to the challenges of the compositions but never stealing the spotlight or showing off.

The live setting really opens things up for the quartet and they revel in the freedom of the environment. Things kick off with “Man of Many Colors,” a Weiskopf original that thumps with Reedus’ fills. Sax blasts through it all and Rosnes piles into the spaces.

Weiskopf, a dedicated saxophonist who played with the Buddy Rich Big Band back in ’81, is an established performer on the New York scene. He leads with a sublime sense of timing, egging on his fellow players with a sort of playful command. This is best heard in the album’s more delicate moments of interplay, like with the bouncy “Little Minor Love Song” or on the contemplative “Blame It On My Youth.”

Having written five books on composition, Weiskopf is no slouch in the arrangement department either. “Scottish Folk Song” brings this to the foreground. Its purposeful gait leads into a surprisingly funky swing, with the saxophonist blasting all the way like a cat under a street lamp. It feels simultaneously far and close to Scottish folk, with subtle underpinnings calling to mind the sparsely populated Highlands.

The ability of this quartet to play through these compositions is worthy of many a repeat listen, but what really sinks this recording into the consciousness is how special it is.

Reedus, who was only 49 when he passed on, is at the top of his game with the “largest beat” and “most generous feel.” And the rest of the outfit is clean, tight and energetic, capturing lightning in a bottle from one night in one place in April of 2008.

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