Alex Weitz, Rule of Thirds Review
Jazz as a Living Dialogue: A Review of Alex Weitz’s Rule of Thirds
by Jeff Becker
Listen closely, fellow jazz enthusiasts, to the captivating rhythms and the seamless interplay of Alex Weitz’s new album, Rule of Thirds, a nine-song set to grace our ears via Outside In Music. Just as the rule of thirds in visual composition guides the viewer’s eye, Alex Weitz’s Rule of Thirds skillfully employs musical lines to lead our ears, orchestrating an off-center perspective that captivates and challenges.
In Rule of Thirds, Weitz isn’t alone in his pursuit of musical expression; he’s joined by his entrusted quartet: pianist Tal Cohen, bassist Ben Tiberio, and drummer Michael Piolet, musicians who have woven their artistry together for a decade. This ensemble’s bond reaches the luminescent level, orchestrating a dance that seamlessly welcomes a star-studded roster of guest artists, including pianist Emmet Cohen, the rhythmically inventive drummer Ari Hoenig, the richly melodic trumpeter Marcus Printup, and the soulful guitarist Yotam Silberstein. Each brings their unique voice to the table, resonating and harmonizing with Weitz’s creative vision. Together, they craft a sound that’s not only reflective of today’s modern colors and structures, but also rooted in the jazz traditions.
“The Hive” serves as an opener and a rich soundstage defining Rule of Thirds. Weitz’s composition is textured with intersecting lines between his saxophone and the rhythm section, weaving two paths that guide our ears through a complex and harmonious dialogue. The ensemble meticulously articulates the composition, transforming each part of the counterpoint sections into graceful lines. These lines of melody are balanced with space, especially during the band hits, where the inclusion of negative space accentuates the music’s activity and draws our attention in, stimulating a desire to hear more.
Hoenig’s drumming sustains an intriguing, relentless groove, yet remains unobtrusive to the communication during Weitz’s solo. He serves as the leading line, while Weitz’s soloing weaves tension and kinetic movement around it. This interplay between Weitz and Hoenig creates a depth that’s instrumental in fostering a dialogue both conversational and profound, pushing Weitz’s ideas to their highest potential. This culmination results in one of Weitz’s most musical solos of the recording.
This track symbolizes what jazz is all about: a dynamic, ever-shifting conversation where each musician is both a leader and a follower. They contribute to a larger, unified vision, leading our attention through the soundstage with various depths of interest. This presentation creates a sense of engagement that keeps listeners on the edge of their seats, encouraging exploration within the soundscape of Rule of Thirds.
“Nocturne in C Sharp Minor” unfolds as a glimpse into Weitz’s classical roots, painting a moody, provocative landscape that flows seamlessly from melancholic introspection to an intense climax. This collaboration with the ensemble crafts a rich, reflective interplay where every musician’s voice adds a nuanced layer to the texture. As the piece transitions from its haunting opening to a potent crescendo, Silberstein’s active solo emerges, filled with fluid ideas that dance and intertwine with Piolet, Tal Cohen, and Tiberio. Silberstein’s use of space and activity is both thoughtful and touching, making the listener feel his ideas as much as hear them. Tiberio’s gentle interaction with drummer Piolet serves as an undercurrent, infusing Weitz’s solo with a flowing, organic quality. The collaboration here is not merely significant but transformational, molding the climactic shape of Weitz’s solo and, in turn, resonating with the listener’s soul. It’s a shared journey of minds and talents, forging an ambiance that’s simultaneously reflective, developmental, and invigorating—an eloquent testimony to the artistry within Rule of Thirds.
The interaction of the ensemble on Rule of Thirds is, without a doubt, outstanding. Yet, there are moments that invite a closer examination. Weitz’s technical ability is what he relies on in his musical pictures. This technical ‘subject’ fills the picture frame on the majority his solos on the album. A more balanced approach following the rule of thirds’ attention to the negative space in photos certainly applies here. The negative space is the area around your subject (in Weitz’s playing, technique), and it is just as important as the subject itself. Indeed, Weitz’s technical agility is a key asset, but an even more impactful musical picture can be achieved by framing the subject off-center, akin to a photographer creating a more dynamic composition. In this musical ‘photograph,’ the negative space becomes the breaths and pauses within the solo lines, accentuating motifs and shaping phrases. This not only sculpts the overall form of the solo but also contributes to the construction of the entire piece, enhancing its emotional resonance.
Take ‘Rude Awakening,’ for example, a track imbued with an active and textured melody and set of changes. Despite its outstanding compositional merit, Weitz’s solo veers into ambiguity, focusing too much on the subject matter of his technique. A more considered approach to motif development and negative space, akin to the guiding principles of the rule of thirds, might have added dimension to the solo, allowing the intense modern colors of the solo lines to resonate more clearly and fully. Particularly in the modal part of the form, the focus does eventually return as the changes become more pronounced, regaining a sense of direction.
Similarly, in “Odyssey,” Weitz’s solo exhibits a wandering quality, where his melody lines seem to lose their way at times. His improvisational idea could have been elevated by a more nuanced exploration of motifs and a conscious shaping of rhythmic patterns and spaces. What starts as an inspiring stream of musical ideas soon becomes overshadowed by technical expertise, losing its initial musicality and emotional impact. A more balanced approach, where the technique serves the music rather than dominating it, would have allowed the rich thematic content to remain at the forefront, creating a more resonant and dynamic solo.
“Love For Sale” offers a fascinating point for contemplation. The fresh, modern arrangement of this classic standard is remarkable, with the ensemble meticulously framing the musical landscape. While Weitz’s technical virtuosity is indisputable, an enriched focus on motivic development and melodic phrasing—specifically, defining the form with distinct cadences or phrase endings—would have enhanced his artistry, allowing it to shimmer even more vibrantly. The application of the rule of thirds in composition, while not prescriptive, serves as a guide to creating engaging and dynamic solos. Deviating from this principle may foster creativity and intrigue, but if disregarded continually, it may risk yielding unbalanced and less captivating musical expressions.
Alex Weitz’s Rule of Thirds is an ensemble of arrangements and compositions, meticulously crafted to reflect creativity, technical mastery, collaboration, and innovative exploration. This album stands as a testament to the complexity and vitality of modern jazz, deftly balancing tradition and innovation. Even in moments where the music might wander or meander, it retains a compelling and authentic voice. Weitz’s willingness to take risks and explore uncharted territories is evident. Though there may be instances where his soloing doesn’t quite reach its full potential, his audacity, and genuine passion resonate clearly, adding depth and intrigue to the overall musical experience.
In Rule of Thirds, we find a portrait of a robust musical landscape taken with care, innovation, and authenticity. Weitz and his ensemble are pictured in this musical landscape performing as a unified unit engaged in a modern jazz conversation, a conversation filled with passion, intellect, and artistic integrity.
Like an expert photographer who adheres to the rule of thirds composition, Weitz positions himself as the main subject of the music at one of the intersecting points, the upper right corner. The ensemble members, like rhythmic accents, align artistically in the lower left corner, their timbre as textured and nuanced as the grain of a well-developed photograph, leading the listener’s ear to Weitz. Together, they create a harmonious portrait of sound and emotion, a complex layering where each musician’s voice contributes to the symphonic beauty of the whole, like the colors blending in a well-composed photograph. Immerse yourself in the rich, multifaceted portrait of Alex Weitz’s Rule of Thirds, a musical composition that, like a well-composed photograph, captures the eye and the ear. It’s an experience well worth the endeavor, one that promises growth, stimulation, and transformation.