The decibels were cranked up and the notes were flying Tuesday at Catalina Bar & Grill in the opening performance of a six-night run by an All-Star Jam ensemble.
The players all have substantial track records in the multi-labeled jazz-fusion-rock-crossover arena: drummer Billy Cobham, guitarist Jimmy Herring, keyboardist T Lavitz, bassist Alphonso Johnson and singer Alex Ligertwood.
Curiously, however, the music--despite the generally in-your-face quality of its presentation--had a peculiarly worn quality, as retro in its own way as the bebop-reviving playing of the Young Lions of the early '90s. Reminiscent of the early years of jazz-rock interaction in the late '60s and early '70s--but not nearly so imaginative as the work of groups such as Dreams, an early showcase for Cobham--it was filled with repetitious funk rhythms and fast-fingered soloing.
Herring, for example, ripped off one virtuosic chorus after another, often at burning up-tempos. But there was almost never a sense of ideas coalescing into coherent musical thoughts; technique, yes, ideas, only occasionally.
Lavitz, on the other hand, favored odd swirls and swoops of sound from his organ and electronic keyboard. His solos--the only musical elements of the evening that drew consistent applause from a large but otherwise taciturn crowd--were structured around escalating cyclones of notes, twisting up to explosive peaks that might best be described as '90s versions of Jazz at the Philharmonic climaxes.
Ligertwood's vocals, clear expressions of English blues-rock, were competently done.
The group had its most potentially appealing element in the rhythm team of Cobham and Johnson, both superb players, both veterans of decades of jazz campaigns (Cobham a Miles Davis veteran, Johnson a former member of Weather Report). And the grooves they laid down surged with rhythmic intensity. But aside from one stirring solo by Cobham, neither artist seemed especially challenged.
And that's probably the best way to describe the performance: lots of sound and fury, but not much in the way of musical substance.
* All-Star Jam at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday. 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (213) 466-2210. $20 cover tonight and Saturday at 8:30 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m.; $18 cover tonight, Saturday at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9 p.m. Two drink minimum.