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JAZZ REVIEW : Music Lovers Follow Leaders to Catalina Bar

Saxophonist Chico Freeman, one of the six leaders of the jazz sextet, the Leaders, laughed heartily at the label avant-garde.

“We’re not avant-garde,” he said just before the band’s opening set at the Catalina Bar & Grill on Tuesday night. “We’re just out here playing music, of which there are only two kinds: good and bad.”

The music that the Leaders, an all-star group formed in the summer of 1984 for a European tour, played during their opening set definitely fell into the first category, with no pretense of being anything other than straight-ahead jazz that swung from note one.

With the exception of its “Blueberry Hill” theme song, the Leaders played only original material. Two of the set’s four songs were composed by the iconoclastic trumpeter Lester Bowie, who is best known for his work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. “Zero,” the opening tune, began in a free-form style that, after settling into a solid swing groove, gave way to a Blakey-esque feel. Alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe contributed a frenetic solo that contrasted neatly Freeman’s full-bodied tenor sound and smooth style. Bowie, whose phrases tend to come in short bursts of violently staccatoed notes, echoed the off-setting rhythms of drummer Famoudou Don Moye.

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Bowie’s “Cool T,” a broadly swinging piece that was half-burlesque, half-soul and all-fun, closed the set.

Freeman’s “Luna” was a darkly mysterious piece that featured the composer on the soprano saxophone and Blythe searching the lowest ranges of the alto. An Arabic quality that permeated the piece was established by droning petal tones by bassist Cecil McBee.

Pianist Kirk Lightsey’s “Heaven Dance” posed a brief melodic passage that fairly lilted over a complex harmonic structure in a frenetic rhythmic pace. The piece provided the best setting for the solo outings by saxophonists Freeman and Blythe.

The Leaders (“the music is the leader,” commented McBee) hold court at the Catalina through Sunday night.

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