Cinque, featuring Joey DeFrancesco and Steve Gadd – Catch a Corner (2011)

The trio of respected Canadian sidemen who complete the Cinque band, though nowhere near as famous as Joey DeFrancesco and Steve Gadd, end up providing the structure and verve for this celebration of good-time soul jazz. You’ll come in listening for the familiar rhythms of Cinque’s celebrated organist and drummer, but go away deeply impressed with Peter Cardinali, John Johnson and Robi Botos. They don’t just hold their own; they help define Catch a Corner.

DeFrancesco, of course, has carried the mantel for B-3 players in the grooving, deeply affable style of Jimmy Smith since his late-1980s Columbia debut — and it’s no different here. He is, by turns, funky and sharp then corny and a little over the top, just like his clearest influence could so often be. (No offense, I loved every bit of it.) Gadd, the date’s other most recognizable name, meanwhile has a career more associated with popular music forms. While DeFrancesco was performing with Wallace Roney, Houston Person, Kirk Whalum, John Scofield, Milt Hinton and Illinois Jacquet, Gadd has been sitting in with the likes of James Taylor, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan and Paul Simon. But while the ever-busy (both literally and figuratively) Gadd doesn’t often participate in straight-ahead sessions — Chick Corea comes to mind; and a terrific 1984 date with Lew Soloff — he has the unflashy virtuosity to do anything he wants behind the kit. And that certainly shows here.

Together, DeFrancesco and Gadd provide the headlines for Cinque’s Catch a Corner. The record, however, has been principally shaped by producer/bassist Cardinali — whose lengthy resume includes dates across a vast musical landscape, from Oscar Peterson to Rick James, from the Brecker Brothers to Ray Charles, from Toots Thielemans to Michael BublĂ©. He allows a kind of free-form spontaneity to rule, as six of this album’s eight tracks are essentially group-written jams — composed, arranged and soloed over on the spot. That gives Catch a Corner a perfectly attuned party atmosphere.

As the album spins, veteran saxophonist John Johnson, who has accompanied Aretha Franklin, Dianne Reeves and Diana Krall, continues to assert himself — notably on “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning,” which playfully mimics the swelling soul of Joe Zawinul’s “Country Preacher,” with Cannonball Adderley. Same goes for pianist Robi Botos, a former sideman with Chaka Khan and James Blood Ulmer who opened for Peterson and later taught Peterson’s daughter the piano. In the end, Cinque is very much a group effort, like a conversation at a party that goes around the room several times.

Catch a Corner, out today on Alma Records, closes with two consecutive cover tunes — selections that illustrate the group’s impressive versatility. First, Cinque trundles through a fun take on Cedar Walton’s “Bolivia,” then turns Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” into a smoky late-night rumination. On the first, DeFrancesco and Botos playfully spar; on the second, Johnson’s buttery tone follows and then builds off the familiar lyric.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.