Is the glass half empty or half full?
Should one be delighted that an attractive venue like Tony Roma's Restaurant in Glendale showcases a fine young performer like tenor saxophonist Benn Clatworthy?
Or should one be distressed that the noise level in the bar where the performances take place can make it almost impossible to hear any music?
In the case of Clatworthy's Friday night sets, it was difficult not to lean toward the latter, since the British-born jazz man was almost overwhelmed by a cloud of jokes, laughter and raucous good cheer. But the opportunities to hear Clatworthy's well-crafted mainstream improvisations have been so few and far between that the evening turned out worthwhile, despite the less-than-perfect listening environment.
Clatworthy, working in precise interaction with guitarist Ric Zunigar and bassist Dave Carpenter, played a set of standards familiar to all jazz improvisers. "Secret Love" moved at an up-tempo double time clip, with Clatworthy soaring across the tops of the chords in a style strikingly reminiscent of early John Coltrane.
"Monk's Blues" retained both the essence and the manner of the eccentric original, especially during the interaction between Clatworthy's tenor and Zunigar's guitar. The only ballad in the set, "Lover Man," triggered an especially attractive Clatworthy solo--one which again revealed his excellent harmonic choices.
With no percussion to cover the rough spots, Clatworthy, Zunigar and Carpenter nonetheless played with a sure sense of time and (especially given the noisy crowd) a brisk but subtle sense of interaction.
By evening's end, the beer glasses were asssuredly empty, but the musical experience was overflowing. Clatworthy's trio continues at Tony Roma's for the next two weekends.