Toph-E & The Pussycats – No Ordinary Day – M’Bubba Music, 72:10 ****:
(Cliff Carter – piano, keyboards; Will Lee – bass, vocals; Ralph MacDonald – percussion; David Mann – tenor, soprano saxophones, flute; Chris Parker – drums)
Toph-E and the Pussycats may have an eclectic name, but their music has become part of the mainstream. Formed in 2000, the members of this quintet have collaborated with a staggering array of musicians and singers. The credits in recording and performance span musical genres to include Frank Sinatra, Grover Washington, Steely Dan, Paul Simon, Sting, Queen Latifah, Bette Midler, James Brown, James Taylor, George Benson, Tom Scott, among many others. Covering iconic jazz legends like Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis, the group has established themselves as discerning jazz artists. Additionally, they have recorded original compositions, emphasizing the unique chemistry of the players. The omission of a guitarist has provided a platform for extended solos and different melodic interpretation. This format is similar to Horace Silver, Art Blakey and Monk.
No Ordinary Day is another manifestation of their cool mixture of jazz, funk, blues and soul. The opening track, “Pussyfoot” is an accessible tune penned by bassist Will Lee and reedist, David Mann. Following an atmospheric opening, the song coalesces with a tight groove and fluid tenor saxophone (Mann). The rhythm section is flawless, led by Lee, drummer Chris Parker and percussionist Ralph MacDonald. Clifford Carter adds an irresistible electric piano that segues into a crisp break. The following track (“It Seems To Me,” another Mann composition) is underscored with a restrained pace that showcases a shimmering piano solo by Carter. “BlackHouse” retains a straight ahead jazzy feel while recognizing change in the political landscape.
There is diversity in the musical styles throughout this album. “Tee” achieves a gospel elan with exultant driving piano chords and soulful tenor runs. A funky take on “Opus De Tophe” feels like a throwback to 70s fusion. The lone number with vocals (“Of Everything I Know/Daquilo Que Eu Sei”) pays homage to the influence of Brazilian culture with a breezy rendition of a Victor Martins/Ivan Lins piece. Lee’s vocals are assured and the soprano play by Mann is smooth and precise. Latin nuance colors Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”. The overall cohesion of the band is achieved with nimble delicacy. The percussive breaks by Parker and Macdonald are expressive, while Carter, Mann and Lee deliver poignant solos. Even classical influences are evident on “Impromptoph”. Based on Franz Schubert’s “Impromptu Opus 142 in Ab”, the harmonic sensibility of The Pussycats is definitive.
No Ordinary Day is no ordinary recording.
TrackList: Pussyfoot; It Seems To Me; No Ordinary Day; Ostinato; Of Everything I Know (Daquilo Que Eu Sei); Tee; Blackhouse; Un Nuevo Mundo; Opus De Tophe; Tatchedogbe (Touch Wood); Impromptoph; Maiden Voyage
— Robbie Gerson