Vivid, Catchy, Intense Compositions from Tom Tallitsch
Saxophonist Tom Tallitsch has a strong, diverse and thoroughly enjoyable album, Heads or Tales, out recently with Jared Gold on organ,Dave Allen on guitar and the semi-ubiquitous Mark Ferber on drums. Tallitsch plays with a slightly smoky tone and a light touch, heavy on the nuance which makes him sneaky fast – when he has to drive home a particular phrase, it doesn’t take a lot of effort. The result is impeccable taste: the melodies get plenty of time to breathe here. There are no stampedes to the finish line, but there’s a terrific amount of sympatico playing and strong compositions. Don’t file this one away in the postbop ghetto.
Maybe this is par for course from a guy who can be very allusive, but the album starts off on a bit of a wishy-washy if well-played note with the rhythmically tricky Coming Around, a sort of warmup with lots of steady minor blues scales from Tallitsch and Allen. Then they give you the gem, Tenderfoot, which sounds like a Marc Ribot noir classic, but done as straight-up jazz rather than dramatic, cinematic main title theme. Beginning as a staggered bolero, morphing into a slinky organ boogie lit up by suspenseful staircases by Tallitsch, they swing it through a series of Middle Eastern-tinged riffs and then out with graceful filigrees from Allen. It’s one of the most evocative jazz songs you’ll hear this year.
They follow that up with the briskly walking Double Shot, which is essentially a souped-up blues with Gold at the absolute top of his game as trickster, setting up a satisfying series of alley-oops from Allen early on, harmonizing with Tallitsch and then casually making his way through a cruelly tricky series of right-vs-left rhythms when it’s time for a solo. By contrast, Perry’s Place could be a lakehouse theme – it seems to be the kind of joint where you can start the day at noon with a hot dog and a couple of bloody marys. Contentment and good companionship shine through Allen’s slow, richly judicious solo, Gold’s sunny midsummer chords and then Tallitsch’s methodical arc to a crescendo. Gold goes back to ham it up again in the funk-infused Flat Stanley; later on, The Lummox is Tallitsch’s moment to draw a caricature – in this case, of somebody who’s basically a hopeless doofus even if they have a serious side.
There are three more tunes here. Travel Companion swings with a carefree but purposeful vibe, Tallitsch reaching for the lows on tenor, Gold switching up his pedal rhythm artfully. Dunes vividly depicts a rolling, crepuscular tableau, a suspenseful series of shifts between sax and organ that Allen eventually gets to spice up with additional bounce. The album winds up with Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down, done as you would pretty much expect, understatedly and tastefully, after hearing everything that came before. You could call this a good driving record, and it is, but the thought and creativity that went into it obviously transcends that label: the more you hear it, the better it gets. Another winner from Posi-Tone.