05/16/08

Michael Pedicin Jr. in New York

The intimate room Cachaca, a recent and welcomed addition to the Greenwich Village club scene, has become the place to catch promising young talent and lesser-known jazz veterans deserving of wider recognition. While you won’t see the kind of big names here that regularly headline at the Blue Note just a couple of blocks away (with the exception of a recent appearance by Brazilian guitar great Toninho Horta), the level of musicianship at this 8th Street club is consistently high, often yielding pleasant surprises.

Such was the case with this gig featuring the underrated Philadelphia-based tenor saxophonist Michael Pedicin Jr. A ubiquitous session man for decades on the Philly jazz and R&B scene, the 60-year-old saxophonist has released seven recordings as a leader since 1980, the most recent being Everything Starts Now (Jazz Hut), which he dedicated to his Philly tenor colleague, the late Michael Brecker. Accompanied by Mick Rossi on piano, Gerry Hemingway on drums, Kermit Driscoll on bass and the Philadelphia native and current Los Angeles resident Johnnie Valentino on guitar, Pedicin dug in with his bold tenor tone, slashing attack and post-Coltrane flow of ideas on several tunes from his excellent latest offering.

Aside from an evocative instrumental interpretation of Eric Bazilian’s “One of Us” (a monster hit in 1995 for pop singer Joan Osborne), all of the tunes on the new album and on this particular set at Cachaca were composed by Valentino, a former student of Pat Martino’s whose challenging guitar-tenor unisons on tunes like the frantic, boppish “Later,” the loping swinger “L.A. to Philly” and the angular “Everything Starts Now” recall the tight chemistry between Michael Brecker and Pat Metheny on Brecker recordings like Tales From the Hudson and Time Is of the Essence.

Driscoll, who in the past year has been on the comeback trail after a serious bout with Lyme disease, walked persuasively on upright throughout the taut set while pianist Rossi contributed probing, dissonant harmonies that tweaked the soloists in subversive ways. Rossi’s renegade choices on his own solos tended toward the outer fringes of the harmonic structure, yet he also occasionally spun wonderfully melodic passages that recalled Keith Jarrett at his most lyrical. Hemingway, a reliable swinger and sensitive accompanist with brushes, fueled the set with dynamic energy, great ears and a brisk, interactive touch.

Pedicin soloed expressively with a warm, inviting, Getz-ian tone on Valentino’s slow, insinuating groover “This Way Out,” and blew with authority through the full range of the horn on uptempo burners, connecting with that muscular Philly tenor lineage of Trane, Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Odean Pope and Brecker. His nonchalant double-timing on Valentino’s minor-key ballad “Another Day” was a page right out of Brecker’s book. Valentino, a gifted composer and arranger, also flaunted some prodigious technique throughout the set, alternately sweet picking and running daring intervallic lines reminiscent of his mentor Martino.

Pedicin’s potent quintet closed this invigorating set with a surprising bossa-nova twist on Coltrane’s “Impressions.” Just another of the pleasant surprises one regularly encounters off the beaten path at Cachaca.

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