Every Saturday night at midnight, jazz lovers congregate at Chicago’s Green Mill for the regular jam of Chicago’s Sabertooth, a quartet composed of woodwind players Cameron Pfiffner and Pat Mallinger (they both play a variety of saxes and flutes), organist Pete Benson and drummer Ted Sirota. Late last June, the quartet laid one of these sessions to tape, capturing a surprisingly sunny, buoyant vibe in the wee-est hours of the morning. The disc starts with the rather martial opening to “Blues for C Piff”, whose piccolo and snare duet leads into a swinging, swaggering sax and organ vamp. With two wind players—and no bass—the band tone is decidedly upper register, perhaps accounting for its light-hearted breezy vibe. Happy, but serious, the players bounce riffs and rhythms and motifs off of one another, always tethered to melody but not too tightly. One surprise comes in “Tetemetarri” where saxist Pat Mallinger switches to a Native American flute for an eerie, new age-y vibe, another when the band pulls an unlikely Grateful Dead cover “China Cat Sunflower” out of its massive repertoire. Another cover, “The Odd Couple” theme from the 1970s television show, splices abstract drum fills and free-ranging improvisations into the easy-going swing of a well-known melody. This is not the chin-stroking, paradigm shifting jazz of the avant-garde, but it’s challenging enough and fun enough to keep music fans wide awake for the graveyard shift.
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