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Listening Post: A Tribute to Chicago Jazz Tenor Giants and some Lesser Known Rachmaninov

Frank Catalano with Jimmy Chamberlin and David Sanborn, “Bye Bye Blackbird: Blowing In From Chicago for Von and Eddie” (Ropeadope). The “Von and Eddie” of this album’s subtitle are the redoubtable Von Freeman and Eddie Harris, two tenor saxophone players from Chicago who gave us high-protein, low-carb jazz whose nutritional value has never waned. (Eddie Harris on a major national scale. Then again Von Freeman gave jazz a terrific tenor-playing son named Chico making a bit of a comeback at the moment.) Frank Catalano is another high-protein tenor man from Chicago. On this record he never wavers an inch from solid, swinging jazz comfort food in the tenor/organ group club jazz tradition. What’s the making of it though are the two tunes, including the title tune, on which he plays with alto saxophonist David Sanborn, in some of the best straight-ahead jazz Sanborn has played in years. One of them is Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar.” The drummer for the whole album is , yes, Jimmy Chamberlin of Smashing Pumpkins, so you have to conclude that little, if anything here, was not an act of musical love. It sounds that way. Three stars. (Jeff Simon)

CLASSICAL

Rachmaninov, “Etudes-tableaux Op. 39” and “Moments Musicaux” performed by pianist Boris Giltburg (Naxos). All you have to do is listen to the opening seconds of the first C-minor etude in the Etudes-tableaux Op. 39 of Sergei Rachmaninov and you know that this is a pianist on this record who relishes playing Rachmaninov off the menu. His technique is clearly daunting and his sound is large and brilliant. Rachmaninov himself said that opening etude was inspired by Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. For pianists, that wolf is much in evidence lying in wait for inadequate virtuosi. That’s not Giltburg. In the second lento assai etude we have an altogether different Rachmaninov for six minutes – one requiring superb technique to be sure but rapidly changing dynamic requirements to make perfect sense of. A pianist whose previous Naxos recordings have been of Schumann and Beethoven. Boris Giltburg is a 32-year-old Russian/Israeli pianist who seems to be worth every bit of faith that Naxos has shown in him. The wonder of Rachmaninov is once you get away from the workhorses and jukebox favorites, he is an endlessly fascinating and, indeed, surprising late-Romantic, given to the heavenly music of the Vespers, on one hand and, on the other, the tone poem “The Isle of the Dead.” And here are some extraordinary miniatures so uncharacteristic. In Giltburg’s own notes to the record, he even tells us about the composer in his senior years writing a friend in 1910 that writing small-scale compositions was “hard-going for me. There is neither beauty nor joy in it.” He also wrote elsewhere that “in my concerti and symphonies there are many places which were written in a single breath, whereas each of my small pieces required meticulousness and hard work.” And a pianist who, when performing them, understands that the composer, nevertheless, became “a master of the short-form genre.” Great playing by Giltburg here. Three and a half stars. (Jeff Simon)