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JAZZ REVIEW : Late Bloomer Struts Stuff at Catalina

September 17, 1993|LEONARD FEATHER

HOLLYWOOD — Frank Morgan was a late bloomer.

The 59-year-old alto saxophonist didn't achieve national prominence until he was in his late 40s. Now a major figure in jazz circles, he showed off his considerable skills on Tuesday at Catalina Bar & Grill.

Morgan, who's appearing through Sunday, has it all--an attractive tone, endless creativity and technique to spare. He was backed by a rhythm section of local musicians--Mike Melvoin on piano, Andy Simpkins on bass and Larance Marable on drums.

Morgan showed that working with a pick-up group is no handicap--provided the material is familiar to all the players. The performance was fine as long as Morgan stuck to "Billie's Bounce," "So What" and other standards. But the smooth musical flow was interrupted when, without informing his sidemen, he eased into a solo on the demanding Billy Strayhorn tune, "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing." At first Melvoin didn't seem to recognize it and was searching for the sheet music. Finally, he eased in when it was time for his solo.

Generally, though, Melvoin was in splendid form, especially in a chorus on " 'Round Midnight" that blended simplicity with beauty. As always Simpkins distinguished himself both as rhythm component and soloist. Marable is one of those drummers who listens as sensitively as he plays, picking up on every rhythmic nuance.

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