Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sabertooth is Dr. Midnight

Dr. Midnight: Live at the Green Mill
By Sabertooth
Delmark Records

Midnight to five—nice hours if you can get them. That’s Sabertooth’s regular Saturday-night-into-Sunday-morning gig, their so-called “After Hours Jazz Party,” at the Green Mill in Chicago. I’m guessing they are not morning people. At least they certainly sound like their in their element during Dr. Midnight, a live recording capturing a late night Green Mill session.

Though largely a soul jazz combo in the Stitt and Ammons mold of two tenors and an organ, Sabertooth’s tenor players Cameron Pfiffner and Pat Mallinger double on flute and claim influences as diverse as Coltrane and the Dead. Naturally, they maintain a late-night vibe throughout as on the up-tempo, but easy grooving opener, “Blues for C Piff.” Appropriately, Pfffner takes the solo honors before handing off to Mallinger, with Pete Benson laying down some grease on the Hammond.

Dr. Midnight is actually a pretty varied set, with an infectious calypso style “Mary Anne,” featuring nice unison work and interplay between the tenors. It is followed by the exotic “Tetemetearri,” introduced by Mallinger’s Native American flute. After Pfiffner enters, also on flute, Mallinger moves to tenor for an eloquent solo statement. It all has an appealing texture thanks to the subtle Hammond accompaniment and Ted Sirota’s supportive percussion.

The title track gets an extended spoken word introduction from Pfiffner that sounds like David Cross of Mr. Show channeling Rod Serling. It is the late night set. It is also the moodiest, freest ranging tune of the release. For Neal Hefti’s “Odd Couple” it is back in the pocket for some blues. Sirota and Benson provide a kind groove, as the familiar theme proves to be an accommodating vehicle for the reeds.

Surprisingly, Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter’s “China Cat Sunflower” is the track that most stuck in my head (perhaps revealing my own collegiate “influences”). Evidently, Mallinger also has some Dead in his past as well. The combination of his tenor and Pfiffner’s piccolo just sound great over Benson’s Hammond grooves.

In his liner notes Michael Jackson writes that he recommends Sabertooth’s Saturday night sets to “outta towners.” That makes sense listening to Dr. Midnight. They bring wit and energy to their music, and when they finally wrap, it’s basically light outside. Dr. Midnight is consistently fun, crowd pleasing jazz, while mixing things up sufficiently to avoid sounding stuck in a groove, which is a nice trick.