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Jazz Review

Gifted Couple ShareTheir Quality Time

Akiyoshi and Tabackin, longtime spouses and musical partners, lead an inventive, polished quartet.

November 03, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pianist-composer Toshiko Akiyoshi and saxophonist-flutist Lew Tabackin have been musical partners as well as a married couple for decades. Hearing their late set Thursday night at Catalina Bar & Grill, one could only marvel at how they have managed to maintain such a high quality of musical creativity within the framework of such full-time intimacy. What happens, one wondered, when they have to go on stage after having the sort of, let's say, disagreement that pops up from time to time in most (perhaps all?) relationships?

Whatever the answer, there wasn't any sign of disharmony on this night, in a group of numbers in which an unspoken, symbiotic musical connection between the two was integral to the performance. Each had individual moments in which to shine.

Akiyoshi's romp through Bud Powell's "Un Poco Loco" revealed her enduring connection to bebop, as well as her capacity to position the style's harmonic methods within her own framework.

Tabackin, as the sole horn player in a quartet that also included bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Eddie Marshall, took most of the solo space. And his high points--the tenor saxophone solos on "Autumn Nocturne" and "You Stepped Out of a Dream," his flute work throughout--were masterful.

At a time when the sound of John Coltrane echoes through the playing of most tenor saxophonists, Tabackin is one of the principal exponents of the instrument's other stylistic stream, flowing from Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster through Sonny Rollins.

In Tabackin's hands, it is an improvisational source that is vividly, inventively alive. His big, muscular sound, his capacity to generate a stirring sense of swing in just a few notes--a rarer skill than one might think--and his use of motivic fragments to create structure and cohesion in his improvisations were all present, in full flower.

Given the quality of Tabackin's playing--on this night in particular, but in virtually all his appearances in general--it was hard to understand why he has never fully received the acknowledgment that his talents warrant.

Irwin and Marshall, players with significant track records of their own, supported the proceedings with an in-the-pocket zing perfectly suited for the Akiyoshi/Tabackin musical manner.

*

The Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Quartet at Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd. Tonight at 8:30, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., $18 cover. Tonight at 10:30, and Sunday at 9:30 p.m., $16. Two-drink minimum. (323) 466-2210.

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