Frank Catalano

Live At Birdland

This exuberant, elbows-out live set from roaring Chicago tenor saxophonist Frank Catalano, with an able assist from legendary Headhunters drummer Mike Clark, bristles with excitement and features an impressively diverse repertoire, from Eddie Harris to Joy Division. Everyone gets ample solo space and instead of traditional trading, tunes build to a group shout chorus. But long solos and sometimes redundant sequencing make the disc feel more like a document than a carefully planned album.

Though the main thrust is driving modal jazz in the Coltrane vein, the album kicks off with two funky finger-poppers, Catalano’s riff “Birdland At Midnight,” which introduces his throaty, crying sound — think Coltrane, but also Lennie Pickett — followed by the somewhat too similar Harris soul-jazz classic “Cold Duck Time.” Clark offers a thoughtful bass drum/tom-tom conversation on “Mister MC,” a spin-off of Trane’s “Mister P.C.” presumably named for Clark.

The quartet hits its stride on Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” with Catalano’s blowzy overblowing prying into the crevices between notes. Though the mood is mostly snappy, one of the most moving tracks is a tender changeup, “He Never Sleeps,” Take 6’s setting of Psalm 151, which features lovely a cappella piano by Randy Ingram, whose solos are a delight throughout. Blunt bassist Julian Smith also offers some tasty lines, but occasionally gets a bit busy.

Overall, it’s a strong album, and while Catalano is a Coltrane man, he seems to grasp the spirit of the thing rather than just the notes.

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