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An Energized, Virtuosic Whitfield Displays His Superlative Guitar Playing

May 01, 1997|DON HECKMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mark Whitfield was musically switched on from the moment he stepped on stage Tuesday night at Catalina Bar & Grill, seemingly eager to squeeze every drop of music he could from his guitar. Humming and grunting with the more energetic passages, moving from side to side, physically involved with the rhythm, he poured his melodies out in rapid-fire, virtually nonstop fashion.

Whitfield's choruses on the initial tune--the Vincent Youmans standard "Without a Song"--built to the kind of lengthy, expansive soloing one ordinarily expects in the latter part of a set. He was equally profuse in his other soloing, seemingly reluctant to end a chorus or, for that matter, an entire piece, adding long, closing vamps and filling the final chords with whirling curlicues of notes.

Whitfield's superlative guitar playing has placed him on the fast track of up-and-coming jazz artists for the last few years without ever quite leading to a major breakthrough. And, ironically, his own virtuosity may be one of the problems. Although his latest recording, "Forever Love," includes his thoughtful, even sometimes sparse ballad interpretations, his playing at Catalina was a direct contrast.

Allowing barely a moment for reflection, it poured forth in such a copious quantity of notes that it was impossible to hear through to the heart of his music. And there was the feeling that the audience, initially enthusiastic, became less responsive as the set continued--burned out by the onslaught of notes.

Interestingly, Whitfield's inherent musicality became much more clear when he was accompanying singer Kevin Mahogany, his guest artist for the week. In the Fats Domino hit "I'm Walkin' " and, especially, Bobby Troup's "Route 66," Whitfield played with a centered focus that revealed how good he can be when he finds a way to honor both the silences and the sounds in his musical lines.

Mahogany sounded superb. The glitches in pitch that sometimes plagued his earlier work were nowhere to be heard. He sang the difficult melody of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Double Rainbow" without a pause and cruised through "Route 66" with an ebullient joy and an emphatic awareness of the song's roots in the blues.

BE THERE

The Mark Whitfield Quartet with guest star Kevin Mahogany 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. The quartet, with Mahogany, performs two shows nightly.

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