Most jazz musicians strive to put together fresh and original statements, usually by composing their own material. A tougher means of achieving freshness is arranging familiar music that has been heard countless times. In this latter enterprise, New York-based pianist Marc Copeland, who opened a five-night stand Wednesday at Catalina Bar & Grill, has gained a solid foothold.
Copeland offered some well-known selections that sounded like you've never heard them before. For example, Cole Porter's "Easy to Love" became a brooding, Afro-Latin essay, while George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" vacillated between an elastic rhythmic feeling and a hell-bent-for-leather sprint.
The pianist brought along an all-star crew of contemporary jazz players--Randy Brecker (trumpet), Bob Berg (tenor saxophone), Cameron Brown (bass) and Dennis Chambers (drums)--and they breathed fire and life into his interpretations. The band worked with a copious passion, and even though the leader's versions now and then teetered toward a cool intellectuality, and some entrances were awkward due to lack of rehearsal, the stirring performances of the musicians kept things from going awry.
Each player had something decidedly different to offer that made the first set a success. Berg was equal parts control and abandon, mixing furiously fast passages with translucent warbles and deep, penetrating tones on "Rhythm" and Herbie Hancock's "One Finger Snap."
Brecker was at his be-bop best, his long, serpentine lines on "Rhythm" and Coltrane's "Equinox" rarely without a melodic gem that touched the heart. Copeland, a Bill Evans disciple, was a intriguing yet appealing soloist who resolved dissonant, angular passages with lines that swung with a capacious beauty.
Underneath all this, Brown kept a firm, steady beat while Chambers, a tireless dynamo, constantly prodded the hornmen with explosive play, then delivered listener-friendly solos replete with power and verve.
If you want state-of-the-art, New York-based contemporary acoustic jazz, this is it.
* Marc Copeland plays tonight through Sunday, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m., at Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. $14-$16 cover, two-drink minimum. Information: (213) 466-2210.