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Joel Frahm & Bruce Katz at The Jazz Standard, NYC

Ernest Barteldes By

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Joel Frahm and Bruce Katz
Jazz Standard
New York, New York
September 1, 2009

In celebration of the release of Project A (Anzic Records), co-bandleaders Joel Frahm (tenor saxophone) and Bruce Katz (piano, B3 and Wurlitzer) took the stage at the famed Manhattan jazz club to showcase what they described as "a jazz re-reading" of the music of Aretha Franklin.

The band started as a quintet with the two leaders backed by Chris Vitarello (electric guitar), Jerry Jemmott (electric bass) and Lorne Entress (drums), kicking off with the CD's opening number, "The House That Jack Built." Their take on the song was very up-tempo, with Frahm being the main voice on the song. Jemmott and Entress provided a great rhythm section that resembled 1970's funk, with practically no slapping or finger-popping on the bass. Katz contributed a dexterous solo halfway through, setting the tone for the evening, which married Katz's clear New Orleans background with Frahm's East Coast influences.

The group surprised the audience when they were joined by Marty Ballou (upright bass) and Ralph Rosen (drums) for "Spirit In The Dark." There was no noticeable difference in the overall sound, however, except during Jemmott's brief solo.

The sole original number of the evening was Katz's "Crescent Crawl," a tune dedicated to the city of New Orleans. For that number, Jemmott and Entress stepped down from the stage while the remaining musicians were joined by Jay Collins (baritone saxophone) and Kenny Rampton (trumpet). The tune broke from the more funky direction the show had been going until then, and focused more on each musician's improvisational skills. One of the best moments came when the band stopped for Katz's breathtaking southern-fried solo.

"It Ain't Fair" was a great vehicle for Vitarello, who took the lead by playing a combination of Steve Cropper-like riffs and Stevie Ray Vaughan-ish solo explosions. During the previous numbers, he had been mostly an accompanist, but starting from this point he finally had the spotlight—his presence being felt until the end of the set, which concluded with a raucous take on "Packing Up, Getting Ready To Go."

This was the debut appearance of the group in a live format. The members exhibited responsive, near-telepathic chemistry, which made for an overall highly enjoyable evening. Considering the many numbers during the set that were not on Project A, it seems all the more likely that more studio recordings are in the works.

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