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Matt Catingub: George Gershwin 100

Robert Spencer By

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This cheerful Gershwin hundredth-birthday tribute kicks off in high gear with "Blues for Mr. G," a tight medley of themes from Rhapsody in Blue, Porgy and Bess, and elsewhere. Catingub, arranger, alto saxophonist, pianist, and vocalist, shows off his mighty alto chops before a charged-up big band backdrop. Catingub commands a 15-piece band, plus guest stars Louie Bellson ("The Man I Love"), Rosemary Clooney ("I've Got a Crush on You"), Michael Feinstein (the little-known "Home Blues" and "Slap That Bass") and John Pizzarelli ("Lady Be Good").

He has a taste for a big, expansive, confident, unsubtle sound: it's a mighty band playing good-time Gershwin mostly shorn of pathos. As a vocalist ("I Got Rhythm," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Soon," "Summertime," "Fascinating Rhythm," "Home Blues," "But Not for Me," "Lady Be Good," "How Long Has This Been Goin' On?", and "There's a Boat That's Leavin' Soon for New York") Catingub is delicate and undemanding. He takes the material at easy paces, not as startling and gripping as Sinatra, but smooth-toned and high-spirited.

Highlights:Chauncey Welsch's buttery trombone on "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Gary Foster turns in a businesslike alto solo on "Home Blues." Clooney doesn't seem to have lost a step on "I've Got a Crush on You."

Quibbles:On "Soon," "Fascinating Rhythm," and "There's a Boat That's Leavin' Soon for New York," we are serenaded by multiple Catingubs. He even scats (in lockstep with himself) on "Soon." His voice is distinctive enough to create an unnerving effect when he sings with himself. And on "Your Eyes! Your Smile!," he plays a Yamaha WX 11, where his piano would have served just as well (or better).

But this is fine traditional big band music. The arrangements and material are innovative enough to stave off any over-familiarity, and the playing is bright. Catingub looks to have some good years ahead of him.


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