California based jazz fusion quintet Catwalk’s new album Weather or Not melts funk into jazz, blends blues with swing and mixes salsa with soul. The gritty performances wielded by sax-man Doug Rowan, guitarist Joe Menichetti, drummer Sid Thompson, bassist Scott McKenna and keyboardist Jay Jackson set you up for an engaging listen, regardless of the climate.
The disc opens with the whimsical waltzy ‘Ashabi Shoe,’ which brilliantly showcases Rowan’s chops and Jay’s gifted piano work. Guest percussionist Tammy Bueno adds a tasteful vibraphone underneath the melody for a great seasoning.
The funk driven ‘Etchasketch’ follows with a full throttle horn arrangement reminiscent of early Brecker Brothers work, complete with heavy hitting by guest trombonist Ric Feliciano and trumpeter Modesto Briseno. Jay’s organ adds the right amount of gravy to keep the head bopping. ‘Octobaba’ mellows out the muse with a shimmering bossa feel and the musicians ride the very loose groove with Rowan leading the way on soprano sax.
‘Monk’s Retreat’ is my favorite track and in my opinion really shows the ensemble at their best. The offbeat sway locks the bass and drums into a perfect synergy, allowing the incredibly quirky melody to glide along unhindered by the totally contrasted Fender Rhodes that begins and ends this dance just prior to fade out.
In ‘Too Many Cats,’ the clincher is guest flutist Tim Jackson’s expansive melodies atop a nurturing, albeit far-out groove accented by Joe’s quaint guitar. In ‘Z’ although the Spyro-Gyra influenced élan is played in the pocket with integrity, it’s not the group’s strongest piece and lacks the energy necessary to carry the soul of the tempo, despite the wonderful bass & drum workout. The snappy ‘Dave’ picks up the pace with a carefully carved out trombone solo and sets Catwalk back on its paseo of solid funk and sparse melodic harmonies.‘Gypsy Mothra’ is potent; displaying the gentle virtuoso playing of flutist of Tim Jackson, heavily encouraged by the poignant percussive persuasion of Tammy Bueno.
‘Choptalk’ - another "easy does it" mellowed out excursion that allows guitarist Joe Menichetti to step into the soothing spotlight and reminds us what a solid bass player Mc Kenna is, which doesn’t happen often enough. ‘Zayante’ is one of those tunes that takes you back to the day when fusion was being forced to make a decision as to whether is was going to calm down for radio and try to make some money or stay brilliant and go broke!
Rounding out the CD is the courageous title track ‘Weather or Not.’ An acoustic guitar juxtaposed against an electric guitar/sax stack riding a nasty melody that defines why fusion was created in the first place and it’s here where the obvious question rears its sarcastic head.... where was all this musical prowess early on? Jay’s piano solo is sensational and the organ is undeniable. The song’s bridge and ‘rough rider’ counter melody underscored by the acoustic guitar and the great electric guitar solo cruising slightly ahead of the brave motif these guys drive home is incredible.
In summary, this album is one I think most jazz lovers will enjoy and appreciate. It is quite evident that these guys are true players, well versed in their craft. Equally obvious is that they have done everything right in demonstrating their diversity in the fusion-laced marketplace. There was one constant that eluded me with every pass which was the element that would have made this very good offering a great one and that is passion!