Not so long ago an adversarial relationship between the so-called camps of mainstream and avant-garde was the talk of the jazz press. Ostensibly led by the preening mouthpiece of Wynton Marsalis many of the “young lions” were openly and sometimes virulently critical of their creative improvising counterparts on the freer side of the fence. Things have since tempered as evidenced by Marsalis’ open admiration of Ornette Coleman and his brother Branford’s futile championing of saxophonist David S. Ware as A&R man for the Columbia label. But ill will still exists and its cats like Catalano that are bridging the gap.
Zeroing in on the saxophonist’s youthful countenance and overt style it may be tempting to lump him with others of his age who are working within the tamer boundaries of post-bop. But deeper, more conscientious attention reveals other, more expansive ingredients in his sound. The opening breakneck rendering of “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise” on this concert date recorded at Chicago’s venerable Green Mill venue offers up immediate and conclusive evidence. Rocketing through the tune’s changes at speeds that threaten to leave his rhythm mates holding the melodic bag Catalano’s admiration for Coltrane comes immediately to the fore. Favoring a robust tone that reflects another influence, that of living Chicago legend Von Freeman, he blows apart notion that the time worn standard is best rendered at slow tempos. Brecker is tame by comparison, reining things in and working as with cleanly articulated phrases. Novak and Wertico have their respective says and Catalano reconvenes the ensemble for a final, but furiously fast lap through the theme. On “Killer Joe” the quintet opens up and stretches out, seasoning the Benny Golson penned hard bop classic at a simmering temperature. Brecker solos first building a logical melodic architecture that Novak further embellishes through the art of sensitive comping. Tipping his cap to the current groove music darlings of his own generation Catalano even takes a convincing crack at Medeski, Martin and Wood’s “Bubble House.”
Trane’s “Impressions” offers another chance to pay homage to the patron saint of tenors. Catalano. The only downside to this hugely enjoyable date is the unfair shake Hochberg sometimes gets in the mix. Sometimes buried under Wertico’s bustling sticks and the horn’s more strident harmonies his contributions on the faster numbers become more difficult to track. This slight aside this disc is an entertaining romp by a band that deserves to record again and is certain to appeal to both sides of the stylistic jazz divide.
Softly As In a Morning Sunrise (12:37)/ Killer Joe (15:58)/ Bubble House (10:41)/ Impressions (14:36)/ The Theme (12:26).
Frank Catalano- tenor saxophone; Randy Brecker- trumpet; Larry Novak- piano; Eric Hochberg- bass; Paul Wertico- drums. Recorded: May 30, 2001, Chicago, IL.
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