Live Jazz: Lenny White and “Anomaly” at Catalina Bar & Grill

By Don Heckman

Drummer Lenny White says that it’s time to put the rock back into jazz-rock.  And that’s precisely what he did Saturday night at Catalina Bar & Grill.  White was a high visibility member of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever.  But it was an earlier association that was the spark for his current quintet – an association that took place when, still a teen-ager, he performed on the recording of Miles Davis’ classic Bitches Brew.

Lenny White

That experience, he said before the first set, had everything to do with his new recording, Anomaly, his first in ten years.  And the quintet he brought to Catalina’s reflected his deep desire to bring back, to his music and to the jazz world in general, the sort of passion he felt in the studio with Davis 40 years ago.

The intensity of the passion burst off the stage in the sort of high decibel wave of sound rarely heard in a jazz club.  It was, no doubt, startling to those members of the audience expecting something a bit less, shall we say, dynamic.  But White clearly had no intention of lowering the volume level or the intensity as he led the way through a program of selections mostly chosen from the new CD.

Jimmy Herring, Richie Goods, Lenny White

His band was fully prepared to match him in every way.  The guitar work of featured soloist Jimmy Herring — a veteran of Widespread Panic, the Allman Brothers and other high visibility rock acts – possessed a rare combination of slippery musical flow and guitar god pyrotechnics.  Working alongside him, guitarist Tom Guarna – a Julliard graduate, as White humorously pointed out – countered with his own very different, but equally forceful version of fusion-style improvising.

White’s drums, understandably, served as the engine that drove the rhythm section.  But he was ably supported by the powerful, body-moving bass lines of Richie Goods and the rich clusters of sound from Vince Evans’ keyboard work.

Did White make his case about returning the rock to jazz-rock?  Yes, and convincingly so.  And, perhaps even more importantly, in solidly musical fashion.  It may have been loud, and it may have been intense, but there was no denying the creative effectiveness of White’s Anomaly.

White and his players perform tomorrow, Wednesday, and Thursday at Yoshi’s Oakland.

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