Story by Brad Walseth and Photos by John Broughton
Jazz fans in Chicago were given a treat for the ears last Saturday night, when the Pat Mallinger Quartet performed the second of their two evenings at the legendary Green Mill Lounge on North Broadway. Pat is no stranger to the Mill, having been the co-leader of the Sabertooth Organ Quartet - the Saturday night late set house band at the Mill for over a decade. Mallinger has also made a reputation for himself as a featured soloist for the Chicago Jazz Orchestra and trumpeter Bobby Lewis' band, among others, as well as leading his own bands. This particular quartet consisted of Mallinger and the exceptional rhythm section of drummer George Fludas and bassist Dennis Carroll - both fellow members of the CJO as well as being first call musicians here in Chicago, joined by exemplary pianist Bill Carrothers (whose new release was recently reviewed by our Jean Timmons here). In what has become an annual event, which hopefully will continue, this foursome took to the stage and launched into the Cole Porter tune, made famous by Frank Sinatra, "I Concentrate on You." Mallinger started gently on tenor building gradually to a climax. This wonderful opening featured extended sax and piano solos that set the stage for what was to follow.
Picking up the soprano, Mallinger played a beautiful lullaby written for his daughter, Madeline, who was in attendance, entitled "Dream My Little Angel." After this lovely and gentle beginning, things began to kick into a higher gear. Mallinger switched over to his alto and began burning Coltrane-ish licks. Not to be upstaged, Carroll here played a highly creative solo on the bass, utilizing his exceptional skills and unusually light (yet solid) touch on the bass, followed by Fludas highly skilled solo on the drum kit. Another couple Sinatra numbers - "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" and "It Was a Very Good Year" rounded out the first set, with the former featuring Mallinger's shimmering alto on this romantic number. Fludas' masterful brushwork was noteworthy, and Carrothers, who has just retruned from a 5-week European tour, opened eyes and ears with his highly creative keyboard flourishes. The wonderful arrangement of the latter opened with a choice Dennis Carroll solo where his hands seemed a part of the instrument itself. Mallinger on soprano again, this number was the highlight of the first set and ended it with a bang.
The second set offered more auditory delights, as pianist Carrothers produced waves of notes, combined with sudden starts and stops that revealed an addictive sense of humor inherent in the Upper Penninsula-based pianist's creativity. Mallinger sat out one number, allowing his guest the opportunity to perform in a trio setting. and the results were memorable. Perhaps the highlight of the second set though, was the incendiary version of "Devil May Care." The interchanges between the band members here was brilliant, with Mallinger at his best on alto, and Fludas showing that a powerful drummer can be musical in his playing.
The entire evening was superb, and the third set was one of the true highlights of the entire year for this reviewer. The chemistry between these players was simply astonishing, and they pushed each other to new peaks. Starting with an excellent version of the old chestnut, "My Heart Stood Still," with Pat on alto, the leader then switched to tenor and the band went into an epic take of John Coltrane's "Wise One." This utterly glorious and delicious performance featured stellar individual playing by all and the band interplay was indescribable. Carrothers took the song into new and exciting directions with his extended solo, while Carroll and Fludas were truly fantastic in their roles. Mallinger, meanwhile, channeled the ghost of Coltrane into his horn on this outstanding highlight. The night ended with a high octane "Limehouse Blues" that nearly blew the walls of the Green Mill down and was a marvelous way to end an enjoyable evening.
Of course, the evening was only half done for the hardworking and ultra-talented Mallinger, who still had double duty to put in with Sabertooth until 5am. One must commend Green Mill owner Dave Jemilo (who was present and enjoying the entire evening) for giving the crowd the opportunity to catch this fine group of musicians, and we hope this annual event may turn into a more frequent grouping that may result in a recording in the future.