By Ted AYALA
Matt Catingub and the Glendale Pops Orchestra were a snug fit amidst the retro-themed décor of the Americana at Brand during their “Summer Night Swing” concert on Thursday night, June 30. The Americana’s architecture, a kind of idealized throwback to art deco styles of the 1920s and 1930s, was a most convivial setting for Catingub’s refined yet sizzling renditions of classics by big band greats like Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
Catingub, not content to merely twirl the conductor’s baton, had proven himself a formidable musician of eclectic and varied talents at his inaugural concert earlier this year with his sureness of touch as a pianist, saxophonist and vocalist. Sure enough, all those facets of his musical personality shone through again when he closed the evening with a memorable take on Duke Ellington’s ‘Take the A-Train’ that was by turns mellow and raucous.
But what would a band be without the strength of its musicians? The GPO is a musical body comprised of solid talent and vibrant musicianship throughout.
Sal Lozano’s seductive alto sax crooned most winningly in Ellington’s
“Satin Doll,” twirling around the glimmering guitar of the Pops’ Grant Geisman. Trumpet player Bob Summers and a solid trombonist led the evening in a pounding duet that whet the audiences’ appetite for the rest of the concert. Drummer Greg Fiddle, who has worked with Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, and Ray Charles, cracked out a thumping rhythmic backbone that had both orchestra and audience swaying.
Special guests, too, by way of Tierney Sutton and Patti Austin, helped fuel the party mood.
Sutton, who hails from Ireland, started out somewhat falteringly with her version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” from his film “Modern Times.” The overripe orchestral arrangement, which at times seemed to echo Mahler’s “Urlicht,” robbed the song of much its original gentle bittersweetness. Tierney’s voice sounded a bit dry and tight on the top; her improvisational melismata wooden and inflexible.
By the next song, however, Tierney was in much better form in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “People Will Say We’re In Love” from the musical
“Oklahoma.” Here Tierney’s silvery voice was far more appealing and liquid.
Austin followed with a voice that immediately commanded attention. Her rich alto timbre, which easily glided to a soprano range when needed, sent a welcome jolt into her audience. A playful take on an Ella Fitzgerald standard,
“If You Can’t Sing It, You’ll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini),” began with a mock baroque string flourish before easing its way into a slow swing capped by Sutton’s scat arabesques.
The Gershwin classic “Swanee” was the highlight of Sutton’s turn with the Pops. Best known through Al Jolson’s iconic – and controversial – performances, Sutton’s rendition brought a warm glow to the Gershwin tune that polished out the brassy fire of Jolson’s version. Sutton’s version, also found on her recent “Avant Gershwin” album, laid out the full range of Sutton’s voice: now dusky, now shot through with light.
At the end of the evening, crowds of people – those that weren’t able to obtain a ticket – were clamoring around the main seating area. By the Americana’s fountain, dancers young and old turned and danced away.
All those smiling faces on stage and in the audience, as if the preceding musical banquet weren’t enough of a clue, were a ringing endorsement of the Glendale Pops’ outstanding quality.