Frank Catalano comes out of DePaul University's well-respected jazz studies program. He's worked with many top performers who have diverse places on the musical spectrum, from vocalist Tony Bennett to the rock group Ministry. Catalano has also toured and recorded with the likes of Louis Bellson, Charles Earland, and Clark Terry. He also has a seat in the sax sections of two of Chicago's top big bands, John Burnett & His Orchestra and Lenny King's Chicago Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra.
Pins 'n' Needles is bop at it's hardest -- driving, filled with chromatic and harmonic invention, and all played straight to the point. If you're looking for sophistication or suaveness, you need to go somewhere else. This CD vividly brings to the mind and ear those hard-blowing small-group sessions of the '50s and '60s. Interestingly, guest Randy Brecker's softer flügelhorn, while picking up the hard bop cudgels, acts as a buffer to Catalano's acerbic horn on the tracks (such as "Hey You!") where he's present. Veteran pianist Willie Pickens and bass player Larry Gray (who are regular members of Catalano's quartet) both get more than a modicum of solo space on "Hey You!," but the star of this cut is Joel Spencer, who runs the gamut of drumming emotions. There's his strong, assertive timekeeping for Catalano and Brecker. He then employs delicate cymbals behind Pickens and Gray. Finally, he ends with a tasteful, not overbearing drum solo. In contradistinction to this high-flying track comes a relatively delicate "I Can't Get Started." Although in a ballad mood, Catalano's sax continues to have that astringent sound that characterizes bop tenor practitioners. Endowed with more than ordinary improvisional skills, the tenor sax player embarks on a journey of invention on "Georgia on My Mind." For more than seven minutes he explores all the nooks and crannies of the Hoagy Carmichael classic. Blues is in vogue on the original "Spill It," with heavy comping by Pickens and bowed bass by Gray. "Pins 'n' Needles" becomes a lesson in trumpet invention by Randy Brecker, again with Gray's imaginative bass burnishing the track.