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JAZZ REVIEW : Benny Green Shows His Versatility at Catalina's : The pianist's trio mixes technique and gentle lyricism in a superb set.

January 13, 1994|LEONARD FEATHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When you say he's got it all, you've said it all. That is the most concise summation of the genius of pianist Benny Green, whose trio opened at Catalina's on Tuesday.

Listening to him now, you understand why Oscar Peterson invited him to Toronto last year to share with him the prestigious Glenn Gould Foundation Award. It's not just his technique, though his ad lib parallel octave lines in "Ain't She Sweet" almost defied belief; it's also his gentle lyricism, as in an old Billy Eckstine song, "I Want to Talk About You."

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At times his speed is dazzling; one unaccompanied solo swung no less vibrantly than the trio passages. Part of his current success, though, is because of the superb collective personality of his group.

Christian McBride, who was not quite out of his teens when he first played with Green two years ago, works in tight cohesion with him on the arranged passages, as does the drummer Kenny Washington, who is equally effective whether backing Green with brushes and sticks or soloing, as he did on one number, with mallets.

Green is establishing himself as a composer. Two of his originals at Tuesday's first set were dedicated to musicians he admires: "Ray B.," for bassist Ray Brown, in whose trio he worked last year, and "Wiggin'," for pianist Gerald Wiggins, who was in the audience.

When he is not amazing the crowd with his more obvious virtues, Green shows himself capable of graceful messages, as in Clare Fischer's "Pensativa" and the almost Basie-like simplicity of "You're a Sweetheart." In short, whatever Benny Green has to say at the piano, he will make his statement with the consummate ease he has achieved in the past couple of eventful years.

Green's trio will be at Catalina's through Sunday.

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