Review by Brad Walseth
Sabertooth have been playing the late Saturday night/early Sunday morning set at Chicago's landmark Green Mill Lounge seemingly since the Pleistocene, yet still continue to draw crowds looking for a fun party atmosphere and hot jazz, and these cats never fail to please them. Their second "Live at the Green Mill" release, "Dr. Midnight," is a great way for the uninitiated to get the feel of attending a Sabertooth gig at the storied Mill, as well as a way for fans to bring a piece of the experience home. For the general listener, this album is filled with enough great music and playing to please even those who aren't night owls.
Comprised of saxophonist Pat Mallinger, a supremely nice guy and exceptional saxophonist and his longtime friend and "odd" partner in crime, Cameron Pfiffner (on saxes, flute and piccolo), along with energetic drummer Ted Sirota, the core of Sabertooth has remained intact for well over a decade. Newcomer Pete Benson stepped into the shoes of departed Dan Trudell (see our recent interview with Dan here.) five years ago and brought his considerable Hammond B-3 skills to complete the sound. With four musicians as talented as these, you could probably play the phone book and make it sound good, but part of the joy of the Sabertooth experience is the surprises to be found on the set list, and this album is no exception.
Mallinger shows his compositional chops, contributing three originals: "Blues for C Piff," "It's Surely Gonna Flop If It Ain't Got That Bop" and "Tetemetarri" (as well as arranging some of the others), while Pfiffner chimes in with the mysterious title track. The catchy traditional Calypso number "Mary Anne," TV's "Odd Couple" theme (an apt choice, as well as a pretty cool, swinging tune) and of course a Grateful Dead tune ("China Cat Sunflower") round out this eclectic collection. None of the songs clock in at under seven minutes, so there is plenty of opportunity for all members to stretch out.
The double saxophone tandem is always a pleasure when in capable hands and these two really know how to play off each other, with Sirota and Benson pitching in to keep the merry-go-round moving in this carnival atmosphere. But lest you think it's all fun and games, "Tetemetearri" features Mallinger on Native American flute and Pfiffner on flute over Sirota's Hawaiian War Chant drums and Benson's organ growls - the natives are restless indeed! And just when you think things can't get any crazier, Pfiffner breaks out... the piccolo! and things get real funky on their Dead cover. One can only imagine a line of those little colored bears dancing out the door at 5am to this one!