Half Notes: Jeff King – Catalyst (2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

“Catalyst” is not just the name of the album, it’s also the name of the band sax/flute player King leads, and this is their debut album. This band which features King, Luis Deniz (saxes), David Braid (piano and keyboards), Rich Brown (bass), Joel Haynes (drums), have Juno Award (Canadian Grammies) and National Jazz Award winners amongst their ranks. The refined chops that garnered them the accolades are evident on this record, a slick piece of jazz fusion. Slick, yes, but not smooth jazz: just too much in the way of and varying, unpredictable and intricate melodies to earn the smooth jazz tag. “Issues,” for instance, is a jazz funk using an uneven time signature for the first half and breaks down to a searching, simmering and soulful groove for most of the second half. Songs like “In Transit” is shows why King went for a dual saxophone font line: both he and Deniz playing competing harmonies that underline the cleverly constructed cyclical melody. King’s songs work so well that the two pop covers he chose to rework for this album (“Don’t Give Up” and Strawberry Fields Forever”) don’t quite reach the same level of excitement. Brown is a central figure in this band; it seems his Jimmy Haslip bass lines get my attention on every song; in fact, Catalyst draws favorable comparisons to the Yellowjackets. Very competent fusion all the way through and distinguished in spots, Catalyst is the band putting their best first step forward.

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