When you only play once a week, and you don’t start the gig till after midnight, you probably won’t build an audience on good looks alone. The Sabertooth Jazz Quintet plugs into a sturdy tradition–the tenor-saxophone tandem–and uses it to blow just the right amount of fire for the peak and subsequent valley of a Saturday-night witching hour. The two-tenor sound dates back to the saxophone battles of the 1930s, but it gained its real jazz credence in the late 40s and 50s, immortalized by such frequent teammates as Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and also Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray. But while those musicians drew from the well of Lester Young’s influence, the Sabertooth’s Pat Mallinger and Cameron Pfiffner–who comprise the group’s front line–have jumped ahead by a generation, taking much of their inspiration from John Coltrane and his adherents. Mallinger and Pfiffner offer the kind of complementary contrast that such partnerships require: Mallinger has a busier, at times flighty way of playing the tenor (which he augments with alto and soprano saxes); Pfiffner digs a little deeper into the center of the tenor tone, taking a blockier, more basic approach to the rhythm. The two also play flute, adding some variety to their timbral profile. But the core of the band remains the interplay of tenors, still the most versatile of the saxophones. Though both saxists appear on Mallinger’s intriguing and rangy CD debut, Monday Prayer to Tunkashila, with the Sabertooths they keep the focus on straight-ahead, meat-and-potatoes swinging, with no complaints. Pianist Dan Trudell leads the rhythm section, which varies according to the regulars’ other gigs. (By the way, Johnny Griffin–a principal in one of the great tenor twosomes, along with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis–appears this weekend at the Jazz Showcase. I hereby volunteer to chauffeur him up to the Mill after his own gig–if it will spur some spirited sitting-in. Three tenors, anyone?) Saturday, midnight, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 878-5552. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.