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Toph-E & The Pussycats: Live In Detroit

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This ensemble, which has been in business since 2000, consists of five well-respected musicians who have largely worked behind the scenes on scores of studio sessions, as well as the television bands of David Letterman (bassist Will Lee) and Saturday Night Live (drummer Chris Parker). In addition, it also features percussionist/composer Ralph MacDonald, who was immortalized for his stirring participation on George Benson's version of "On Broadway" decades ago (and acknowledged by Benson in the closing coda). Clifford Carter (piano and keyboards) has worked with Patty Scialfa and recorded with James Taylor, Bryan Ferry and Betty Buckley. Finally, tenor and soprano saxophonist David Mann is given the task of presenting the melody lines of most the material on Live In Detroit.

The members of this collective all come from an era featuring the rebirth of R&B and funk, and they term its musical sense "R&B-bop." There is no guitar present on the record, in order to acknowledge the jazz quartets and quintets of the past. The material is most eclectic, mingling the compositons of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis with originals by Richard Tee, Don Grolnick, and Gene McDaniels, plus two well-known tunes by Ralph MacDonald ("Just the Two of Us," "Mr.Magic").

The lively and unpretentious album was recorded live at the Detroit International Jazz Festival, which is held every Labor Day. If you've enjoyed the music of late-night talk show bands led by Paul Shaffer, Kevin Eubanks and Max Weinberg, this is exactly what Toph-E & The Pussycats have to offer. Duke Ellington's "Rockin' in Rhythm" is presented in a fairly straightfoward manner, and Will Lee includes a vocal. Chris Parker is the vocalist on the popular "Just The Two Of Us." The Miles Davis classic "All Blues" is given a Latinized touch, and the audience excitement (and participation) reaches a peak with "Compared to What," singing the chorus. The closer is a spirited version of Grover Washington, Jr.'s signature song, "Mister Magic."

Live In Detroit is not for all jazz enthusiasts, but in light of the good-times party atmosphere that Toph-E & The Pussycats provide, there should certainly be a place for them to make people happy.

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