Trombonist Curtis Fowlkes and keyboardist/co-producer Ted Cruz have a pretty good concept on how to juice up modern mainstream and contemporary jazz modes. Toss in a little Fender Rhodes piano, some hot house horns, an occasional funky twist or hard swinging beats, and you have Catfish Corner. Fowlkes and Cruz are joined by the quite substantial contributions of alto saxophonist Sam Furnace, trumpeter Russ Johnson, bassist Carlos Henderson, and drummer J.T. Lewis. Their collective sounds cross many improvisational demarcations, but is rooted in the post-bop originality of the '50s. The material, seven of nine pieces written by Fowlkes, each have a flavor of their own. The introductory "Treasure Chest" cooks nicely in 6/8, replete with wonderful interplay from the front liners, Furnace's smouldering alto and Cruz on electric Rhodes defining the sound and centering their focus. "What Was...Is," a statement unto itself, is a straight swinger with organ fed urgency, a call-and-response clarion head, and Furnace in a Dolphy-esque mood. "Sacred Monster" turns a corner in a loping waltz mode with Cruz's Rhodes again setting the pace. Going into Mwandishi cum Horace Silver territory, "Blue Teardrops Falling" is nearly 11 minutes of undiluted workout, with funky blues reserve and wah-wah keyboards, especially on Cruz's innovative solo. Fowlkes, a sweet and satisfying trombonist with no excess or aftertaste, takes the lead on three selections, two of them ballads; "Ashe" (he is a sports fan so this must be for the late great tennis pro Arthur Ashe), a beautifully patient anticipatory refrain, and the standard "When I Fall In Love," with stacked themes of longing and waiting. The trombonist also takes charge on a marvelous interpretation of fellow trombonist Grachan Moncur III's classic hard bop-to-Latin themed flag waver "The Coaster," his fellow bandmembers urging him on with background horn charts that punctuate his lean, mean melody lines. Most atypical, but still quite good, is a two-note/same-note repeated phrase on "Walker Snead" that sets up electric rock guitar of guest Duncan Cleary, and the monotone poetic "jazz legacy-where do we go from here?" rap of Sheila Prevost on the funky title track. Much very good bordering on great jazz to be heard here, and we suspect just a scraping of the surface for what Fowlkes and his friends have in store in the not too distant future. Recommended with no reservation.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos