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Toph-E & the Pussycats: Live in Detroit

C. Michael Bailey By

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Jazz is a schizophrenic music: it desires performance on the concert stage to a quiet, polite tuxedo and evening dress audience; at the same time, it seeks out a rowdy, drunk bar or festival crowd. Jazz has largely been able to cater to both populations successfully, but has certainly tended to the former extreme (at least in recent years). Toph-E and the Pussycats is a funky quintet that plays an assertive brand of soul jazz injected with a contemporarily smooth flair, aiming to reverse this trend.

In short, this is a jazz band with a rock band attitude. Bassist Will Lee handles two duties, delivering the vocals and serving as master of ceremony, with equal ability, steering the band through a live set at the 2004 Detroit International Jazz Festival. Exuding loads of personality, the band blows through soul-laced versions of Duke Ellington and Harry Carney's "Rockin' in Rhythm, Don Grolnick's "Human Bites and Miles Davis' "All Blues. All songs are dominated by Clifford Carter's churchy keyboards and David Mann's various saxophones, both of which march to the tune of Les McCann and Horace Silver.

True performers, Toph-E and the Pussycats produce two performance masterpieces in a Hank Mobley-meets-Lou Rawls take on Bill Wither's "Just the Two of Us and the Eugene McDaniels-cum-Les McCann/Eddie Harris piece "Compared to What. The former is a perfect mid-performance ballad to heat up the audience, while the latter rocks with a momentum all its own and serves as a perfect way to start wrapping the disc up. The penultimate tune, a super soul jazz vehicle, is amazingly well-received, helping cap a well-paced and thoughtfully constructed festival set.


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