Live Jazz: Mark Isham at Catalina Bar & Grill

By Tony Gieske

Having left “Red Top” and “Lester Leaps In” and that kind of stuff far, far behind him, Mark Isham decided to give jazz one more chance by playing “Lonely Woman,” the Ornette Coleman tune, during his otherwise non-jazz set at Catalina’s Bar and Grill Sunday night.

We all know Isham from his many and much-honored film score credits, but tonight he was exercising his trumpet-playing chops, and they seemed to need it.  The bluesy old Coleman piece was begun with a freshet of rapidly paced drumming by Tom Brechtlein, the only member of Isham’s Houston Street band who played without electronic assistance. He powered the leader’s output all night long.

Jeff Babko, keyboards, Tom Brechtlein, drums, Doug Lunn, bass

No one seemed bothered by the fact that this particular tempo was  ludicrously  fast.  When he plays in his films, Isham’s performance is microscopically clean and nothing like that ever happens.

(No doubt he is assisted in this award-winning business by his dual 2.0 G5 Powermac computer running Apple Logic Pro, as his website mentions. “A second computer, a dual 1.42 Powermac G4, also sits at this console running Pro Tools 7 HD. This computer runs the video that Mark will score to.)

Restricted to a mere Apple laptop at Catalina’s, Isham had no means of restoring the missed high notes, flubbed fingerings and such that afflicted him from time to time. And you don’t start over again in jazz.

Nor could anything be done about the painfully sharp melodic product that came out of Isham’s flugel and trumpet on the “Lonely Woman” number, once they slowed it down — if, indeed, anybody on the stand could hear the actual input.

No particular executional mishaps could be detected on Isham’s more congenial repertoire: Two barebones tunes from his beloved Radiohead and a long series of variations on the Alex North theme from “Spartacus.”  Here it was a penchant for wildly excessive melodrama that became hard to bear. And the clean and beautiful sound that we know from his film work did not, in this setting, carry the ring of truth that fools us in the movie theater.

Photos by Tony Gieske

Read and see more of Tony Gieske’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site

One thought on “Live Jazz: Mark Isham at Catalina Bar & Grill

  1. You were obviously the only one that didn’t enjoy yourself, Tony (evidenced by the response the band received). I found the band thoroughly engaging, and truly enjoyed myself (as did the rest of my party). Are you across-the-board opposed to experimentation and evolution in the genre? I thought the song choices and arrangements were quite brilliant. And I’m not quite sure what “electronics” has to do with the quality of the show…the strange contempt and focus on “computers” in your review is odd, and frankly sounds kind of cranky. But to each their own, I guess. I just hope we’re all willing to let jazz evolve and grow. It needs to to survive. Something I’m sure we all can agree on…


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