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JAZZ REVIEW

Good Vibes, Good Music From Milt Jackson and Friends

February 08, 1996|DON HECKMAN

Milt Jackson may be, at 72, one of the elder statesmen of jazz. But in performance he is an ageless musical leprechaun.

On stage for the opening set of a six-night run at Catalina Bar & Grill on Tuesday, he was a study in motion, hands moving effortlessly as he spun his mallets in quick, flashing runs across the bars of his vibraphone. At the close of each solo, he turned away from the instrument, looking out at the audience with a sly smile that seemed to say, "How about that!"

And his pride of accomplishment was well-justified. Jackson continued--as he has for decades--to wring an extraordinary amount of energy and passion from an instrument that is not especially rich in timbral possibilities. There were times when the bell-like sound of his vibes blurred into vagueness. But when Jackson dug into solos on ballads such as Leon Russell's "Masquerade" and J.J. Johnson's "Lament" or hard-grooving pieces such as Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" and his own "Bag's Groove," there was no resisting the captivating, articulate swing that is an essential element in his music.

The performance was aided by the presence of pianist Walton, bassist John Clayton and drummer Tootie Heath. Interestingly, with Heath and Jackson, the ensemble represented, in effect, half of the Modern Jazz Quartet. And, although the sound was different from the John Lewis-directed MJQ, the sense of cohesion and togetherness were similar.

Rather than simply present a blowing session of standard tunes--which he easily could have done--Jackson came in with a group of well-crafted, skillfully played arrangements, most of them written by Walton. But beyond the craft, there was a real feeling of musical joy about the performance, the experience of hearing players who listened, enjoyed and reacted to what the other musicians had to say.

* Milt Jackson Quartet at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday. 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (213) 466-2210. $14 cover tonight and Sunday, $16 cover Friday and Saturday, with two-drink minimum. Jackson performs two shows nightly, at 8:30 and 10:30.

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