Live Jazz: Cip & Cat at Vitello’s

By Tony Gieske

The thing that struck you about the group Gene “Cip” Cipriano brought out Thursday night was that they were all helping each other produce what used to be known as soul in the bowl.

Gene "Cip" Cipriano

You’d have thought Prez himself was up there when Cipriano got into “Back Home in Indiana.” Oh, it was muy satisfactory, all right: his silken tenor sound, his conversational phrasing, his classic, musical way of building a chorus… you could see right away why he is the most-recorded instrumentalist in music today.

But then, the rest of the players onstage with Cipriano Upstairs at Vitello’s were not exactly holding him back. Nobody was holding anybody back, was the thing.

The great Jim Fox would solo unafraid and brilliantly on his honeyed guitar after Cip wasted everybody, but neither Fox nor Cip could intimidate pianist Tom Ranier, who would come on big and bold and just as loaded with harmonic savvy and improvisational chops.

The master bassist Trey Henry and the master drummer Ralph Humphrey provided the guys with more than the proverbial rock solid support. They served as co-maestros of the dance, extending arms for the soloists to lean on and be led by through the stalwart standards on offer.

Cat Conner

Many of these came from vocalist  and co-leader Cat Conner,  who absorbed the general warmth and added her big personal sound and well chosen repertoire to the general audio feast. “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” taken at a breakneck pace, was one of the many joys she brought forth. Cip provided heart-warming saxophone commentary between her phrases.

Cipriano took care to share the onstage wealth with his many friends in the audience: A silver-haired baritone who gave a savvy account of several show tunes; a fellow oboe player who would have come up but had forgotten to bring his ax, and a fellow clarinetist who was playing piano in the group and did bring his ax.  That was Ranier; they did “Moonglow” a deux on their clarinets, and it was like Barney Bigard and Jimmy Hamilton.

All night long, everybody helped everybody else do their best, and since they are all at the top of their professions, it came out  pretty much for the ages.

Photos by Tony Gieske.

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

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