The Russian/American Jazz Connection, which was scheduled to be heard Tuesday at Catalina's, has only one link with Slavic Reunion, the group that actually appeared. The common denominator was Alexei Zoubov, the Soviet tenor saxophonist who has been living here since 1984.
His regular sidemen (piano, bass and drums) having defected to other assignments, Zoubov stripped down to a duo, with Milcho Leviev, the pianist from Bulgaria, as his partner. This bare-bones instrumentation might prove daunting to a lesser pair, but because they have worked together before, off and on, and given Leviev's exceptional talent for filling in the rhythmic necessities with his agile left hand, less sometimes seemed like more.
One tune, the somberly engaging "Dark Night," was drawn from a repertoire of Zoubov's previous group. Everything else consisted of adventurous variations on "Stella by Starlight," "Body and Soul" and other pop antiques. Using tempo changes, quirky stop-and-go effects and occasional bursts of swinging 4/4, the couple was consistently intriguing, weakened only by Zoubov's freak note finales.
Leviev's classical training often surfaces in his impressionistic improvisational ventures, but like Zoubov, he has acquired a sensitivity that enables him to incorporate the jazz essence of his adopted country. Zoubov's big sound and robust style sometimes recall Lew Tabackin, with a hint of Sonny Rollins.