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Break out the party hats and cut the celebratory cake; another Von Freeman jam session is out of the can and ready for the grasping hands of Windy City jazz fans! Vonski is cat so good at what he does that even the most callous critical eye can’t help becoming weepy in admiration. The man has been staging weekly jam sessions for virtually any and all comers for years, providing not only a proving ground for young talent, but also an instant, on the spot, greenhouse for their fledgling chops to bloom in. At the tender age of 13 Frank Catalano was one such pupil, mustering up the courage and joining Vonski on stage for the first time. That was nine years ago and now Catalano is one of the rising talents on the Chicago scene. As if symbolically coming full circle this set rejoins him with his early mentor and in typical (but in no way predictable) Freeman fashion the pair commences to cook from the opening number.
The sleeve notes and the recording itself break down the tenorists into separate channels, but such studio wizardry is hardly necessary in deciphering who’s playing what and when. Vonski’s tone and method are unmistakable. Demonstrating that he’s taken his mentor’s credo of singularity to heart Catalano is equally distinct. “Get Out” gets the quintet’s juices flowing and gives both horns a chance to name the shots. The call and response chase of “Good Bait” opens an even clearer aperture to observe the two players distinct tones. Catalano’s fleet-fingered slippery lines and Freeman’s more measured heavy rasp weave a loose knit coat of melodic colors that cloaks the rhythm section in a warm embrace. “Summertime” steers the group into moodier regions and it’s a true pleasure to hear Vonski wrap his thick throaty sound around the morose melody of this Gershwin classic. For more optimistic ears there are several sunnier ballads on hand too such as “When I Fall In Love” and “I Could Write a Book.” Something of a surprise is the pair’s take on “Alone Together,” which opens with a prefatory collusion between the horns sans rhythm that perfectly mirrors the sentiments of the title. “Reverse Blues” locks the lounge up with a sultry finish riding a particularly bluesy foray from Catalano. The musical equivalent of that old club sign-off “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”
On an bizarre side note, Lloyd Sach’s liners make mention of an offer Catalano received from the industrial rock band Ministry to join their fold around the time this set was scheduled to be waxed. Thankfully Catalano opted to decline, staying in Chicago and carrying through with the session. But it does conjure some crazy speculative scenarios as to what the next Ministry record would have sounded like had he joined their heavy industrial circus.
Track Listing: Get Out/ Good Bait/ When I Fall In Love/ You Talkin
Personnel: Von Freeman- tenor saxophone(right channel); Frank Catalano- tenor saxophone (left channel); Larry Novak- piano; Larry Kohut- bass; Joel Spencer- drums. Recorded: August 18 & 19, 1999, Chicago, IL.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.