Earl MacDonald is a music educator (Jazz Studies; University of Connecticut), composer/arranger and musician (piano). Mirror of The Mind is his fifth album as leader, in which he continues his exploration of combining a diversity of outside influences and inspiration while still feeding off of jazz’s rich history.
The ensemble is a quartet comprised of piano, multi reedist Kris Allen, Christopher Hoffman on cello and Rogerio Boccato on percussion. It is a little bit of a different line up for a quartet but not overly so. The sonorities achieved by the group as a whole always remain interesting but never at the risk of alienating the more casual listeners.
“A Thousand Memories” begins with Earl’s piano in a see-saw pattern and brushed drums whose stuttered beat is perhaps someone’s pulse caught up in a reverie of memory. Opting to go for a cello instead of the standard upright bass is a great idea. Here, it enters the song initially emulating the piano pattern in a rich singing tone. For his solo statement Earl’s piano offers up a cascading run of percussive, clear ringing notes whose pattern is then taken up by the tenor saxophone. The horn’s solo is a long flurry of notes bereft of any discordance and so logically connected to both the piece and the piano solo which had preceded it that it serves to organically move the piece forward. Throughout the piece are two motifs, the see-saw pattern and occurring under that by cello and horn one that is a sort of diagonally upward thrusting pulse point pattern. Towards the end of the song the cello reiterates both themes. The finish is an exhale of the horns breath, softly and the final plink of the piano; the dream over but not forgotten and only for now.
The album is comprised of mostly original compositions with the exception of two covers (“Blackbird” and “I Never told you”). “Blackbird” is refreshingly executed as a fairly straight ahead read. In modern jazz a cover tune or musical quote initially would have some sort of humorous, intellectual or political raison d’etre. As jazz expanded past being music just for the outsiders (artists, intellectuals et al) a cover or musical quote became the starting point for each artist to build their own thing off of. For the past decade or so covers are often deconstructed or reimagined, sometimes distractingly so. The listener metamorphosed into an audience member at a magic show, waiting for the source material to be revealed. The “I” of the artist more often than not taking precedence over the material, what it means to them and not what makes the piece in itself great. In lieu of vocals the soprano saxophone declaims the main melody. It is a relaxed affair without ever lapsing into sounding like a jam band. The ensemble shows great interplay which is harder to organically do on material that is not comprised primarily of virtuosic turns. There is a beautifully buoyant plucked cello solo midway through the piece. The sonics for the entire album are pristine and immediate, lacking that digital coldness which can threaten to remove the humanity from a work.
“Miles Apart” is my favorite piece on the album. It has a laconic, bluesy feel. It is a nicely layered piece. There is a great opening line which has the soprano taking the lead under which a bowed cello can be heard, it being bolstered in turn by the subtle poly rhythmic murmurings of the percussion. The cello has some compelling moments, conjuring up the feel of someone with a stately mien admitting to having the blues without losing their composure as they do so. The long lines of the soprano which end the piece underscoring the point. In some bar or club, the protagonist dressed to the nines, happy to be going home not on account of having had a bad time but because that is the natural order of things. As is to lament what we lost or do not yet possess.
Maxwell Chandler -Midtown-
More information on Earl: http://www.earlmacdonald.com/
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