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JAZZ REVIEW

Driving Rhythms From Pianist Silver and Ensemble

June 20, 1996|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Horace Silver just keeps rolling along. Now in his fifth decade as a top-notch pianist and composer, the bebop grandpop--as he described himself--shows no sign of slowing down.

Tuesday, in the opening set of a six-night run at Catalina Bar & Grill, Silver displayed a new seven-piece ensemble, performing a program (with the sole exception of his classic "Song for My Father") of new compositions. One of his great strengths always has been his capacity to create catchy melodies, from "The Preacher" and "Doodlin' " to "Sister Sadie" and "Sen~or Blues."

And he was among the first to come up with the now-fashionable idea of concept albums in collections such as "Silver 'n Brass," "Silver 'n Wood" and "Silver 'n Percussion."

Both elements are present in his current ensemble, which kicks off a long tour after the Catalina gig. Silver's latest tunes--"The Hippest Cat in Hollywood," "Gratitude" (for Louis Armstrong) and "Hawkin" (for Coleman Hawkins)--are as instantly memorable as ever, filled with bop-based, soul-saturated melodies and typically driving rhythms. His band is a kind of conceptualized old-Silver/new-Silver congregation, employing his productive techniques of the past to guide him into the future.

The first set was solid and fairly well-played. Tenor saxophonist Doug Webb and trumpeter Ron Stout rendered a few stirring solo passages, with trombonist Steve Baxter and baritone saxophonist Phil Vieux adding strong collective support. But the team of Silver, drummer Harold Mason and bassist Bob Mays still seemed to be in search of an agreed-upon rhythmic groove--a critical component in Silver's music.

It was not until a lengthy, final excursion through "Song for My Father" that the band really came to life. And credit for the animation has to go, largely, to Silver. His long, stretched-out piano solo, bubbling with his uniquely whimsical quotes from pop songs, folk tunes, jazz lines and anything else that occurs to his quick creative mind, was exactly what his septet needed as a flash point.

Hopefully, the vitality he supplied will keep the music cooking in familiar Silver fashion for the balance of the week.

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

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