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Bassist Moffett Steals His Trio's Thunder

September 26, 1996|DON HECKMAN

The Charnett Moffett Trio includes the talented Cyrus Chestnut on piano and the equally gifted Terry Lynne Carrington on drums--performers with the amply demonstrated ability to step into the spotlight on their own.

But in the group's opening night performance of a weeklong run at Catalina Bar & Grill Tuesday night, there was never any doubt about who was leading the band, and it was neither Chestnut nor Carrington. Instead, virtually the entire set was focused upon lengthy, cutting-edge solos by Moffett, playing acoustic bass and two different electric basses.

Moffett, the son of drummer Charles Moffett, was only 16 when he began playing with the Wynton Marsalis quintet in 1983. But his outings as a leader rarely matched the level of his performances as a sideman with musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Tony Williams, Slide Hampton, Mulgrew Miller and others.

And the principal problem with his own recordings is the same difficulty that vexed his Catalina set: a tendency to concentrate so strongly on his own playing that his musical partners have very little to do other than supply a backdrop for Moffett's extended bass solos.

His program was mostly drawn from a new recording, "Planet Home" (Evidence). In style and substance it sometimes seemed to emerge from the jazz stream flowing from Weather Report and Return to Forever; at other times it verged closer to the aggressive high-voltage energies of jazz-rock.

Moffett is a virtuoso artist who managed to sustain a remarkable degree of interest throughout his improvisations by moving easily from dark, rhythmic passages to guitar-like melodies. And his compositions (more like settings for solos, actually) delivered aural combinations sounding far larger than the timbres of a basic jazz trio.

His obvious desire to assert a leadership role in his own trio aside, however, Moffett's music would be considerably more appealing if he tempered his solo presence with more interaction and, especially, with more prominent musical visibility for the other two proficient players in his band.

* Charnett Moffett Trio at Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., through Sunday. (213) 466-2210. $13 cover tonight and Sunday, $15 cover Friday and Saturday, with two-drink minimum. Moffett performs two shows nightly, at 8:30 and 10:30.

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