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Toph-E & the Pussycats: Live in Detroit

Mark F. Turner By

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Don't let this band's name fool you: Toph-E & The Pussycats are a group of veteran jazz musicians whose combined resumes include television gigs, Grammy awards, and musician credits from James Brown to Rachel Z. Led by drummer Chris Parker, the group also features bassist Will Lee, piano/keyboard player Clifford Carter, saxophonist David Mann, and percussionist/songwriter Ralph MacDonald.

The New York-based group, which was formed in 2000, performs compositions with a heady mix of jazz, R&B and rock music, basing them around a musical philosophy dubbed "R&B-bop." This live recording from the Detroit Jazz Festival shows that they clearly know how to throw a fun and lively party.

The concert includes Duke Ellington's swinging "Rockin' In Rhythm," the funky gospel blues "Tee" (dedicated to the late R&B keyboardist Richard Tee), and rocking modern jazz goodies like "Human Bites" by the late jazz pianist Don Grolnick. The lines of popular music and mainstream jazz are artfully blurred, allowing both the audience and the band to have a good time. Even Miles Davis's "All Blues" is given a fresh coat of reggae funk; Will Lee delivers a jumping bass solo, and the crowd cheers its approval.

Parker not only holds downs toe-tapping beats, but also provides soulful vocals on Bill Wither's '80s pop hit "Just the Two of Us" (written Ralph MacDonald). MacDonald's superb percussion is highlighted as he and the other members burn down the stage with heated playing. The rollicking "Compared to What," with some anti-war sentiments, is also thrown in for good measure, and the audience joins in on the lyrics. The Pussycats' purr turns into a growl as the recording ends on a most positive vibe with another MacDonald hit composition, "Mister Magic," remembering the late saxophone luminary Grover Washington, Jr.


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