Saxophonist Tom Tallitsch leads a quartet that includes organ, guitar and drums, a lineup that conjures the expectation of a grooving, soul-jazz-blues amalgam along the lines of Hank Crawford, Jimmy McGriff and Jimmy Ponder. But Tallitsch is a post-bopper at heart, who plays tenor with the pivoting angularity of Joe Henderson. He is also a fine composer, interested in creating interactions that are more harmonically sophisticated and melodically pliable than the groovy tropes of organ-laden “soul jazz.” Head or Tales benefits from the mating of these virtues.
The absence of a bassist puts some air beneath the ensemble, in part because organist Jared Gold, a mainstay on Posi-Tone label recordings, plays with admirable restraint while fleshing out the rhythm. He has abundant chops, as his hop-scotching solo on “Flat Stanley” demonstrates, but is less inclined than most of his peers to spray-paint songs with colorful blasts of sustained notes from his instrument. Guitarist Dave Allen is likewise attuned to texture — listen to the way he underscores Tallitsch on their unison passages during “Double Shot.”
The band really brings it together on “Dunes,” a mid-tempo ballad that lives up to its title with subtle, shifting details inside a seemingly implacable framework. “Perry’s Place” is another worthy, contemplative, ballad, although the quartet is not averse to toe-tapping, as the lead tracks “Coming Around” and “Tenderfoot” demonstrate. In fact Tallitsch’s songs are strong enough that his lone cover — Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” a curiously mordant selection — might be the clunker in the bunch. Tallitsch is a longtime music educator, both for ambitious students and those who find music to be therapy for their disability. Although this is at least his fourth outing as a leader, it’s heartening to hear him in such a supportive environment for his skills, and that he uses the occasion to subvert the organ-jazz template for his more idiosyncratic skills.