May 15, 2016 at The California Clipper in Chicago.
Pfiffner is best known as one-half of the saxophone tandem that fronts Sabertooth, the organ quartet that not long ago celebrated its 20th anniversary of late-night Saturday-into-Sunday gigs at the Green Mill. But that band doesn’t engage his ear for inventive arranging and eclectic composition. Marco Polo, on the other hand, does.
The compositions roam freely through the jazz and world-music traditions, full of purpose but also atmospheric details; the arrangements take inspiration from sources as disparate as the peerless perfectionist Thad Jones and the anarchic South African bandleader Chris McGregor.
A superb orchestrator, Pfiffner makes the most (and seemingly more) of his smallish orchestra by mixing and matching instruments to create temporary “sections” that phase in and out of existence, underscoring the music as needed.
And It doesn’t hurt that Marco Polo boasts a slew of strong soloists – including but hardly limited to pianist Tom Vaitsas, altoist Nick Mazzarella, and Julie Wood on baritone sax.