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Sidemen eclipse Tyrell

November 21, 2002|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Steve Tyrell spent decades in the music business as a producer and an executive before he decided to step out on his own as a singer. His resulting two albums (with a third, a holiday CD, about to be released) have reached consistently high positions on the jazz charts.

And that's a bit perplexing, since his performance at Catalina Bar & Grill on Tuesday had a lot more to do with rhythm & blues, Dean Martin and Dr. John than it did with, say, Joe Williams or Mel Torme. The jazz quotient for the evening, in fact, was largely provided by a seven-piece band that featured two authentic jazz artists -- trumpeter Lew Soloff and tenor saxophonist Plas Johnson.

Although each was confined to relatively short solo segments, what they had to say was first-rate, with Soloff dipping into his youth to revisit his Louis Armstrong/Roy Eldridge dreams, and Johnson, as always, applying his rough-hewn sound and visceral sense of swing to both ballads and rhythm tunes.

To his credit, Tyrell frequently expressed his delight about being in such stellar company. His own modest jazz skills, however, were centered primarily around his loose, loping rhythmic phrasing and a selection of songs -- "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "I'm in the Mood for Love," "It Had to be You," among numerous others -- that have long been staples of the jazz repertoire.

But his relatively limited interpretive abilities, the monochromatic quality of his sound and the repetitiousness of his phrasing soon tended to dull the impact of even this fine material.

Tyrell's success owes more to heavy promotion and the paucity of new male jazz vocal talent than to his own skills. Given a few more years of seasoning, his singing might come to justify the attention it's received.


Steve Tyrell

Where: Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood

When: Tonight through Saturday

Price: $22 cover at 8:30 tonight; $17 at 10:30. Friday, first show sold out; $20 cover at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, first show sold out; $25 cover at 10:30 p.m. Two-drink minimum purchase.

Info: (323) 466-2210

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