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JAZZ REVIEW : Eastern Rebellion: Success Working in the Mainstream

March 16, 1995|DON HECKMAN

The password in jazz these days seems to be "youth."

With young lions prowling every area of the jazz world it can be easy to overlook the power and vigor of the older generation.

The members of Eastern Rebellion, which opened a week's run at Catalina Bar & Grill on Tuesday night is, with the exception of Ralph Moore, 38, well over 40 years of age. But, even though the quartet broke no new ground and worked comfortably within a traditional envelope, it demonstrated how much potential for exhilaration and creativity still exists in the arena of mainstream jazz.

Playing a set devoted almost exclusively to standards and an extended medley of Thelonious Monk tunes, the group was consistently entertaining. The English-born Moore, who recently joined the "Tonight Show" band, played tenor saxophone with a big, bold, muscular sound reminiscent of Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons. His soprano work was a little less effective, plagued occasionally by a squawky reed. Nevertheless, his articulate solos, which mixed assertive, honking, declamatory sounds with fleet runs, suggested that he is an artist who cannot be disregarded.

Pianist Cedar Walton performed, as always, with a blending of thoughtful pianistics with whimsical bits of byplay, suddenly inserting quotes from other tunes in the middle of his improvisations. And bassist Tony Dumas, so easy to take for granted because he always plays so well, added a couple of well-crafted choruses that were impossible to ignore.

But it was drummer Billy Higgins who provided the glue that bound Eastern Rebellion into a complete unit. Ever-involved with the music, ever-responsive to the smallest shift in nuance from the other musicians, the smiling Higgins brought a sense of cohesion and continuity to an evening filled with the sheer, uncomplicated joy of making music.

* Eastern Rebellion at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday. 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (213) 466-2210. $12 cover tonight and Sunday, $15 cover Friday and Saturday, with two-drink minimum. Eastern Rebellion performs two shows nightly, at 8:30 and 10:30.

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