Jazz musicians are often lauded for how different they are from one another, but all of the most notable musicians who wear the jazz label actually have one thing in common: expertise in telling a story. When theory, technique and stylistic divisiveness are all removed from the equation, musicians are left with the not-so-simple task of creating aural narratives worth following, and plenty of them can be found on Heads Or Tales.
Tenor saxophonist Tom Tallitsch put together a program of original music that’s chock full of intriguing melodies and strong solo statements, highlighting his abilities as player, composer and sax-wielding storyteller. He zigzag’s his way through fast passages like an expert race car driver, delivers soothing streams of sound, and brings intensity and suspense into the picture. His tenor saxophone voice is neither too bright nor too dark, and his well-balanced sound draws attention at every turn.
Tallitsch, appropriately enough, went with a foursome for his fourth outing as a leader, and each musician brings something different to the date. Drummer Mark Ferber is in the driver’s seat for the majority of the program, acting as an accelerant (“Coming Around”), groove-maker (“Flat Stanley”), stylistic gear shifter (“Double Shot”), and suggestive painter. Organist and label mate Jared Gold is the ultimate colorist and sound sculptor, delivering brilliant musical non sequiturs, liquid lines and engaging solo statements. He’s a tonal chameleon who’s capable of altering his sound at will, and that skill serves the music well. Guitarist Dave Allen’s personality is often overshadowed when the ensemble is moving along at full steam together, but as a soloist, he proves to be a nimble-fingered wonder. Clarity is clearly a priority for Allen, whose lines are always clean and bright.
While the first eight tracks on the album highlight Tallitsch’s writing, he takes on the role of interpreter for an album-ending trip through Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” Plenty of musicians might have felt the need to dress this song up in complicated clothing, but Tallitsch keeps things simple, further demonstrating a firm understanding of the art of expression and communication that exists at the very core of this music.