Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sabertooth's Two Tenor Dr. Midnite Jazz

Sabertooth is a two-tenor organ group that has been holding down a weekly gig at Chicago’s The Green Mill jazz club. Saxophonists Cameron Pfiffner and Pat Mallinger along with Pete Benson on the Hammond B3 and Ted Sirota on the drums hold forth Sunday in the wee early hours (2-5 AM) at The Green Mill.

Sabertooth has held forth here since 1990 and June 23, 2007, Delmark was there to tape the night and the result is a new CD, Dr. Midnite - Live at The Green Mill, that captures the two tenor organ combo in high flight. Delmark likens the two to such past celebrated two tenor tandems as Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis and Johnnie Griffin and Gene Ammons & Sonny Stitt. These two players have been at it together for such a longtime and their empathy certainly shows here as does the stellar support they also receive from Benson and Sirota.

The two open the disc on flutes for a hint of Scottish flavor before they dig in for Mallinger’s Blues For C Piff. This number quickly illustrates their contrasting styles as Pfiffner comes across to me as showing a bit of Sonny Rollins flavor in his playing while Mallinger is more Coltrane-ish. After each solos, Benson takes a shift before the horns come back, again hinting at taking us to the Scottish highlands, then finishing this solid blues. The melody of It's Surely Gonna Flop If It Ain't Got That Bop, alludes to Ellinton’s It Don’t Mean a Thing …, as the two take flight on this bop flavored original with Mallinger on alto and Pfiffner on soprano. There is a nice drum solo on this from Sirota.

The group provides a marvelous rendition of the Harry Belafonte calypso, Mary Anne, as Pfiffner evokes Sonny Rollins as this opens with Mallinger on alto again. They play jointy on some measures, which is spiced up by Mallinger alto being a commentator to Pfiffner’s tenor.The title track, a Pfiffner composition with his spoken introduction, is slightly spacey number. It is followed by an unexpected rendition of the theme from the classic television show, Odd Couple. What delightful way they set up the melody before Mallinger opens up on tenor set against a buoyant rhythm, and then they sing ‘Don’t You Think It’s Odd’ to ride the song out.

The Grateful Dead’s China Cat Sunflower closes this album. Perhaps the music here is a bit less focused, although hardly unlistenable. If I was living in Chicago, I think I would want to be well-rested for Saturday night, because based on Dr. Midnite Sabertooth is obviously worth staying up and going to see.

This review originally appeared in the April 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 303), although I have made minor editorial and stylistic changes. I received my review copy from Delmark.  Here is a video to give you all a taste of Sabertooth at the Green Mill.

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