It was double-feature time Monday at Carmelo's when composer and alto saxophonist Matt Catingub led what were billed as his Junior and Senior Big Bands.
The junior group consisted of 10 students whom Catingub has been instructing at the Dick Grove Music School. They are evidently learning well, but the instrumentation was awkward--only two brass against five saxes--and for the most part they sounded as if a couple of more years in the woodshed will prepare them for prime time.
Listening to them tackle two difficult sax-section passages was not unlike watching a group of colts negotiate a series of hurdles; you marveled at their failure to stumble rather than at their ability to achieve any grace or beauty.
Catingub's mother, Mavis Rivers, sounded a little tentative as, holding lyric sheets, she read her parts to the last two numbers.
The 20-piece professional orchestra, flashing five of everything (trumpets, trombones, saxes, and a rhythm section complete with vibraphone and guitar(, played it safe, using mainly material that Catingub wrote for an album two years ago.
Exuberant and well organized, the band sustained a better level of interest in the pieces that focused on his writing rather than the sometimes derivative up-tempo pieces in which two trombones or two saxophones locked horns for an overextended battle.
Catingub's talent was well framed in his own solo feature, "When You Fall in Love." Rivers was more relaxed and convincing in the big band setting, with five flutes decorating the background on "Don't Blame Me," which also featured a neatly devised mother-and-son passage for wordless voice and alto sax.
Herb Jeffries, the club's new owner, sat in for an agreeable impromptu "I Got It Bad," sans arrangement. Jeffries will appear Fridays and Saturdays, starting this week. Coming Thursday: the adventurous pianist and composer Horace Tapscott.