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Philip Catherine: Guitar Groove

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Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine unites with Wayne Shorter’s most recent rhythm section (Alphonso Johnson on bass, Rodney Holmes on drums, Jim Beard on keyboards) for a split session that explores two sides of the guitarist’s makeup-groove-oriented melodies and sublime ballads.

A fully wired jazz-rock player during the ’70s, when he came under the fiery spell of fusion pioneers John McLaughlin and Larry Coryell, Catherine has tempered his high energy chops in the ’90s, going for more of a warm, pure sound on his hollow body jazz box. And while groove tunes like “Merci Afrique,” “Good Morning Bill” and “Sunset Shuffle” are far too involved and full of urgent, dissonant solos to ever be considered smooth jazz, they lean toward the Yellowjackets-Spryo Gyra-Jeff Golub camp of contemporary jazz.

The title track, a jaunty shuffle-swing blues with tricky bass-guitar unisons on the head, offers the most room for Catherine and Beard to stretch. And they both run with the ball in playful fashion, culminating in some spirited exchanging of eights with Holmes. They dip into a soothing samba vibe on “Hello George” then take a walk on the smooth side with the ballad “To My Sister.”

Catherine turns in a lovely rendition of “Stardust,” full of Djangoesque flourishes on the guitar, then takes a more stately approach on acoustic guitar on his fragile ballad “Here and Now.” The most provocative performance here comes on the dark and aptly named “Nuances,” a spacious vehicle for Beard’s grand piano and Catherine’s interval leaping, cliche-free lines.

Another highlight is the acoustic “For Wayne and Joe,” a dreamy ode to Weather Report’s founders which features some beautiful fretless bass work by former Weather Reporter Johnson.

Though, like Coryell, he has considerable command of the instrument and an ability to burn up the fretboard at any given moment, Catherine mostly keeps his chops in check on Guitar Groove , letting his fingers do the walking in service of the songs.