A Whole New Way of Listening to Music

News of Note, April 20, 1997 
Special to the Bradfor Newspaper Group 
Music Reviews by Gerald Laurence 
Immedia Wire Service


On "Crash Landing,"guitarist Jon Catler retunes to completely redefine jazz-rock fusion.

Changing the way the world listens to rock, jazz and fusion music is no small task, yet that appears to be the goal of lead guitarist Jon Catler, who com- poses and performs in what is known as Just Intonation, a form of microtonal music using 49 notes per octave instead of the standard twelve tone scale.

Playing a guitar with a customized fretboard (reproduced on the CD's inner. sleeve), Catler weaves a magical soundscape through the ten tracks on The Catler Bros.' "Crash Landing." Catler has some impressive support from his brother Brad, who plays fretless bass in a punchy growl that is consistently delightful, as well as the tastefully cooking jazz drummer Jonathan Kane. This rhythm section is so assured and inventive that either man could lead his own group were they not so dedicated to fitting their work into the overall structure of Jon Catler's songs (nine are originals, and the album concludes with a percolating version of "Free" by Ornette Coleman).

Guitarists, let's get technical for a minute. The tonal center of almost all Western music is a note that oscillates at 440 Hz. Alternative and metal bands frequently de-tune some of their strings to produce a different sound to their albums, and in the pop world, Joni Mitchell is one of the most frequent de-tuners around. Catler goes them all one better. He doesn't just de-tune, he re-tunes. He completely transmogrifies the entire sonic picture', starting with a tonal center note that oscillates at 426.7 Hz. which happens to put his B note exactly in tune with the 60-cycle hum that often annoys listeners of amplified music. Think what that means -- with Catler's tuning, the 60-cycle hum gets used as part of the musical output of his amp! Catler's 49 notes in each octave also have mathematically-precise intervals, something he's been working with since 1978.

The songs are all instrumentals, ranging from cool (the title track) to bouncing ("Minor Bird") to fiery ("Wood Pecker"). "Burning Monk's Waltz" explores some free jazz possibilities in Just Intonation. "The Prowler," in which Jon makes his guitar sound like a synthesizer on amphetamines, gives a tantalizing hint of what rock and roll might sound like with this tuning. The seven-minute-forty-eight second "Spiritual Brother" begins quietly, but with a throbbing, ominous undercurrent of mystery. The boys slowly build on the opening of the song, eventually touching every jagged angle of the song until, by the track's conclusion, they're smashing out crescendos of stunning power and excitement.

So impressive is Jon Catler's chording and note selection that it only takes a shocked moment of listening before everything he plays makes sonic sense and you find yourself questioning all that you've ever learned about music. Then, when the 45 minutes of superb jazz-rock fusion fades out, you put on another CD or flick on the radio and realize that all these re-tuned de-tuned micro-tuned and regular-tuned songs can slip easily into your ears; however, after hearing The Catler Bros., you'll listen differently, and with more enjoyment of what every musician does.

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