Philip Catherine ‘Selected Works 1974-1982’ 5CD (Milan/Warner) 4/5

Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine finally receives his due with an excellent retrospective of his most creative period as a musician between the mid-1970’s and the early 1980’s. Born in 1942 to a Belgian father and English mother, Catherine lived the early part of his life in London before his parents moved back to Belgium. Stylistically, his twin guitar influences are those of the jazz-fusion era of the late 1960’s with John McLaughlin and Larry Coryell, his alma mater. In fact, Philip Catherine listened intently to horn players for influence and this explains in part why he recorded with some of the greats including Chet Baker, Dexter Gordon as well as French contemporaries Lou Bennett and Jean-Luc Ponty.

Bassist Charles Mingus was impressed by Catherine’s style and nicknamed him ‘Young Django’. While internationally, Catherine is best known for his duet recordings with Larry Coryell, these leader sides were critically acclaimed at the time and, the first two, originally on an independent label, were quickly bought up by Warner, and thus contributed greatly to his reputation. The first two albums, ‘September Man’ (1974) and ‘Guitars’ (1975), directly follow on from Catherine’s formative learning period, initially playing under the group of Jean-Luc Ponty between 1970 and 1972, and then taking a year off to study at the prestigious Berklee School of Music. He returned to Europe to form his own group, Pork Pie, and then cut the first two albums contained within. Both were interestingly produced by that great cult Belgian keyboardist, Marc Moulin, and feature his core group of bassist John Lee and drummer Gerry Brown. However, elsewhere Catherine was also entering into a formal duo with Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, as well as working with both Charles Mingus and Stéphane Grappelli. A gap of some five years then follows before ‘Babel’ (1980) and ‘End of August’ (1982) are recorded and by this period the jazz-fusion era was largely considered passé and Catherine was turning his attention to a more straight ahead jazz idiom. This was exemplified further by his tenure as part of the early 1980’s trio with French musicians, fellow guitarist, Christian Escoudé and violinist Didier Lockwood.

His own later albums hints at the earlier jazz tradition of Reinhardt and Grappelli, but deploy a more advanced post-bop phrasing. As a bonus, two unreleased live sessions from radio recordings in Bremen are included and this captures the pure essence of the guitarist. As a package, this is a first class offering, with heavy facsimile covers, intricate pocket opening of the box and a lavish twenty-eight page booklet that truly brings the sessions to life with personal anecdotes from several of the musicians who featured on the original recordings. Given that Philip Catherine rarely, if ever, is showcased in retrospectives on this side of the Channel at least, this is now the first and immediate choice for anyone seeking to discover his art. A fine overview of a guitarist whose reputation among fellow guitarists and jazz musicians has not diminished over the years.

Tim Stenhouse