VON FREEMAN/FRANK CATALANO

You Talkin' To Me?!
Delmark DE-525

Opera may be promoting its three (vocal) tenors ad nauseam, but jazz has a much more venerable tradition of two (instrumental) tenors. In many ways the tenor saxophone is the prototypical jazz instrument. So tenor duels have been a feature of the music almost from the time Coleman Hawkins first changed a reed in the 1920s.

This enjoyable disc confirms that the sax face off pioneered by such tenor tag teams as Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Johnny Griffin is still alive and blowing. But there's an extra twist here: One of the saxophone soloists is 22, the other more than 55 years older.

Considering the older man is Chicago legend Von Freeman, this is no contest between a toothless tiger and young kitten either. For Freeman who evolved his singular style back when Charlie Parker was still touring regularly, has always been a distinctive modernist. In fact, without a scorecard, most listeners would be hard pressed to figure out which saxophonist has qualified for a pension and which one was watching Sesame Street a few years ago.

Backed by a hard driving veteran rhythm section, the twin tenors work out on expected standards like "Good Bait", "Summertime" and "Wave", plus a couple of Catalano originals, with the sort of go-for-broke, hand clapping, foot stomping exuberance that characterize a typical Freeman night club set. The younger saxist should know these moves well; he first sat in with the older man when he was all of 13 years old.

Still, during the course of nearly 72 minutes of music here, it's Freeman's slightly tart tone that more often than not heads for the stratosphere and while occasionally lightening the proceedings with some wry quotes. Considering you're listening to a man who predates the formation of the Windy City's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and played in Sun Ra's first rehearsal band, Freeman unquestionably puts the lie to the statement that Jazz is a young man's art. But Catalano is no slouch either. Listen to him echoing and ornamenting the master's runs in the a capella beginning of "Alone Together".

Smooth jazz fanciers could probably be jolted off of their comfy couches by this CD, with no tune save "When I Fall In Love" — all 3:54 of it — taken at anything slower than mid tempo; and the majority are much faster. Leaving the spotlight firmly on the front line the pianist, bassist and drummer do exemplary work, extending themselves on no more than the odd few breaks.

Nearly any session featuring Freeman is worth hearing and this one should certainly be added to the list. Catalono's future career will be worth watching as well. Younger than even the youngest Young Lion, he seems well on his way to forging an original style that draws on the tradition without being a captive of it.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Get Out 2. Good Bait 3. When I Fall In Love 4. You Talkin' To Me?! 5. Summertime 6. Alone Together 7. Wave 8. I Could Write A Book 9. Reverse Blues

Personnel: Von Freeman, Frank Catalano (tenor saxophones); Larry Novak (piano); Larry Kohut (bass); Joel Spencer (drums)