Entertaining they are, musically and sartorially. Blues Brothers-ish in their fashion preference, the Catz in the Hatz appear in black suitz, tiez, black shoez and trendy hatz for uniformity of appearance that enhances the music they present. But jazz musicianz they not always were.
Guitarist Mike Wiens, the exception, always was. Eventually, after the panicked rock singer and drummer Steve Johnson got a gig to perform jazz at The Mandoline Bistro, Wiens calmed his fears and eventually and eventually convinced Johnson and bassist Terry Copley of the superlative merits of jazz. As their repertoire increased and as demand for their jazz-based music expanded, Johnson stepped out front as lead singer when Steve Boggio joined the group as drummer, even as Johnson continued to play percussion when he wasn’t singing. With the addition of Mike Cross on keyboards, the Catz in the Hatz sound was fully formed, and the Catz in the Hatz sensation was launched. On Resilience, the quintet establishes its sound with an interpretation of "Nature Boy" that combines its affinity for easy-going swing with lean-into-the-microphone crooning as Johnson sustains the notes at the ends of the phrases for smoothness and suavity that is Killer Joe-like in its coolness. Naturally, "Killer Joe" appears on Resilience as well, providing Johnson with the opportunity to play bongos during the famous introductory vamp and Copley to demonstrate his final conversion to jazz from rock with a melodic, infectious bass solo. Like "Killer Joe," Freddie Hubbard’s "Little Sunflower" is an instrumental, showcasing guitarist Wiens’s fluid technique as he takes the lead on the song, contributing an engaging solo no doubt influenced by Wes Montgomery, among others.
But Johnson’s singing, recalling the male big band singers of a half century ago, is the element that establishes the group as a unique, memorable presence that listeners talk about after hearing it. "Into the Smooth’s" minor-key lurk not only is entirely apt for the Catz’s personality, but also incorporates all of the elements that make the group stand out, from its change of tempo to its jazz-based instrumental solos to Johnson’s low-end-of-the-range singing. Copley’s "Slow Down Jimmy" recalls the call-and-response work of Louis Prima and others as he shouts out the command, only to be repeated by the Catz. In fact, the best songs of Resilience are the ones with which the band members have the most fun, like the doo-bopping vamp governing "Fever" or even the irreverent Raymond Scott-like wackiness of "Für Elise," which no doubt would infuriate the purists.
Fortunately for them now that they’re a local attraction and fortunately for their enthusiastic fan base in Southern California, the members of Catz in the Hatz have discovered the fun and the challenge offered by jazzzzzzzzzzzzz.