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JAZZ REVIEWS : Horns Aplenty Still Leave 'Em Wanting More : Tom Margitan's sax work in Vinnie's small confines points to how much better he would be with a full rhythm section.

August 23, 1993|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — Tom Margitan puts together a good little lounge act, just the kind of thing that goes well in the intimate quarters of Vinnie's restaurant. But when the saxophonist-vocalist referred to Bill Murray's old "Saturday Night Live" parody of the over-stylized lounge singer, it served to remind the audience of the difficulties he and keyboardist Tom Zink faced playing as a duo in these cozy circumstances. And it invited comparisons.

Saturday's appearance, the second night of two, made it clear right away what Margitan has over Murray: He plays saxophones and plays them well. His tenor solo on "My Romance" had some of 1960s-era Sonny Rollins' tonal quality, a hard-edged sound that seemed to open as it moved up the scale. Margitan also has a fine sense of development, using a variety of phrases and line lengths accented with repeated notes, stuttering lines and occasional bits of high-end excitement.

With his left hand, Zink provided synthesized bass lines from his keyboard while supplying chordal accompaniment with his right. This left-hand bass approach sometimes gave his solos a stride-like appeal, and he capitalized on this effect with soulful, blues-tinted lines that nested easily with his low-end rhythms.

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There's no use quibbling over the lack of a real , acoustic piano in these cramped confines--there's just no room. Zink stuck to acoustic-like sounds from his electronic keyboard, working at different times in guitar, vibraphone, organ and, of course, acoustic piano sounds. Though his bass duties sometimes seemed to abbreviate his right-hand phrasing, Zink's accompaniment was surprisingly thorough, considering he was providing all of it. His solo on "Here's That Rainy Day" was particularly rich and rewarding.

It's Margitan's vocals that compare most closely with Murray's fictional lounge lizard, and he doesn't quite avoid all the stereotypes that the comedian spoofs in his act. Unlike Murray, Margitan has a good tone, the color of cognac and occasionally just as intoxicating. But like Murray, he has some difficulty with high notes and the longer he sustains a tone, the less likely it is to be hit on key. While the intricacies of "Lush Life" proved a challenge, he sang the upbeat blues "Roll Em Pete" with a strong rhythmic sense and infectious enthusiasm that was well received by the crowd.

But Margitan's real talents are as sax player. He introduced "Roll Em Pete" with a fine tenor reading of the bop workout "Billie's Bounce" before singing the blues. His soprano work on Clare Fischer's "Morning" came in sparkling tones as he mixed short bursts with attractive, lazily meandering lines. Margitan also brings a certain cleverness to the bandstand, as he demonstrated when quoting from "Dance of the Siamese Children" during his "Roll Em Pete" improvisation.

His best effort came on Antonio Carlos Jobim's somewhat obscure bossa nova "Favela," on which a series of circular phrases gave way to a dramatic passage that was punctuated with his up-register squirts. His tone was also impressive, especially when he moved away from the microphone to read the music. It was then that the firm, complex tenor sound was at its best, without the veiling that amplification brings.

One came away from this set wanting to hear Margitan working with a full rhythm section, which would allow him to work a wider range of style than just a keyboardist allowed. Zink would also get a better airing in such a situation, his left hand available for chordal accompaniment rather than being tied by the bass line. Though it won't happen at Vinnie's, where there's just no room for more than two or three musicians, here's hoping we'll get to see Margitan with a real combo somewhere soon.

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