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Sabertooth: Dr. Midnight (2008)

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Sabertooth: Dr. Midnight How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Few bands last fifteen years, let alone play at the same venue over that time. Sabertooth has done that at Chicago's Green Mill, playing the Sunday midnight to 5 a.m. shift. An odd time? Perhaps, but those who go to see them don't care. They listen and enjoy. And if the music on this CD is anything to go by, they certainly deserve to be around for a long time. It's filled with energy, intensity and elegance, all of which fit in nicely for an entertaining set.

Sabertooth is comprised of Cameron Pfiffner (tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, piccolo), Pat Mallinger (tenor and alto saxophones, Native American flute), Ted Sirota (drums) and Pete Benson (Hammond B3). Yes, they have no bassist, but their music easily dispenses with that peg. Sirota drives the rhythm, while the horns and the organ grip the center and fill it with excitement.

Sabertooth gets into gear with the jumpy "Blues for C. Piff. Pfiffner and Mallinger trade opening riffs, nestle in the sweet grain of the melody and then swing out. Pfiffner pushes, the intensity constant and deep-grooved, his ideas feeding off the focus. Mallinger plays alto and the texture gets a lighter hue, but the bristle and a hint of swagger propel and grip. Benson extends the dynamic on the Hammond; not only is his voicing deep, he holds the sustain, which adds to the impact.

A band has to be astute in its choice of material and the programming if it wants to keep the interest of an audience. Sabertooth jumps from the blues into bop and fuels the intensity. Benson blends his playing well, letting scathing lines shoot through the fuzzy warmth of his notes. Mallinger and Pfiffner chase the melody line and take it into enticing recesses before Sirota embellishes the rhythm, pushing the dynamic range on the traps with his accents.

The effect is stunning, the mood completely different on the folkloric "Tetemetearri. The luminescence is woven by Mallinger on the Native American flute, the myriad colors filling the texture with breathtaking beauty. Pfiffner opens the melody, adds a few edgy phrases and gives the tune extra allure.

Track Listing: Blues for C. Piff; Its Surely Gonna Flop if it Aint Got That Bop; Mary Anne; Tetemetearri; Dr. Midnight; Odd Couple; China Cat Sunflower.

Personnel: Cameron Pfiffner: tenor and soprano saxophone, flute, piccolo; Pat Mallinger: tenor and alto saxophones, Native American flute; Pete Benson: Hammond B3; Ted Sirota: drums.

Record Label: Delmark Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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