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Earl MacDonald - Re-VISIONS

Earl MacDonald .:|:. Re:VISIONS – [Death Defying Records, 2010]

The multifaceted pianist/composer & arranger Earl MacDonald a native of Winnipeg is currently the director of jazz studies at the University of Connecticut. Preceding his present position MacDonald obtained his master’s degree of jazz studies at Rutgers where he also studied with another accomplished pianist named Kenny Barron.

“…an extremely talented pianist and composer with a firm grasp of jazz tradition. He is constantly searching for new ways to express himself through his music.” –Kenny Barron

On this enticing musical journey aptly titled “Re:VISIONS,” MacDonald demonstrates way he’s revered as a unwavering accompanist / improviser whose also been compared to such jazz greats as Don Sebesky, Mike Abene and Slide Hampton according to trumpet legend Maynard Ferguson. MacDonald scores six originals of the nine selections with one co-authored by the late jazz saxophonist Bob Berg … the tunes by MacDonald remarkably capture his vision of marrying these detailed works for a jazz orchestra.

Out of the gate MacDonald and the band roar feverishly with the blues infected “Friday Night at the Cadillac Club.” MacDonald and his amazing 17 piece jazz orchestra ounce for ounce seriously employ their skills playing some fabulous jazz here … you can’t approach songs like this unless you do!!

At the interlude of “Mr. Sunshine,” MacDonald redefines the tempo as the focal point of his arranging skills graciously identifies his purpose in tone superbly utilizing the extraordinary cast of players interplay is reminiscent of the arrangements by the aforementioned artists mentioned in paragraph two. This remarkable piece features a-plus players like Jim Brenan on tenor, Jordan Perlson – drums and Joe Magnarelli plays the trumpet.

Measuring Up,” lends itself to the virtuosity of MacDonald’s playing and once again his arrangement fits flawlessly. Features on this track are Ralph Bowen on tenor, Tim Reis – soprano, and Steve Kenyon – baritone sax … they intertwine their voices seamlessly as soloist later joined by guitarist Pete McCann as he inserts a Metheny like voicing to add color and texture.

The big band vibe of “Bad Dream” is a bouncy gem which captures the essence of back in the day accented with a poignant altitude by this fascinating jazz orchestra. Alto saxophonist Tim Reis intercedes successfully as his melodious timbre flows with pitch perfect fluidity on this marvelous tune.

As I hear it “Re:VISIONS,” distinctively and effortlessly qualifies as Jazz 101. MacDonald underscores the dimensions of jazz with intensity coupled with vibrant orchestral arrangements on this exquisite palette of music from beginning to the end. Case in point … “Joshua” originally composed by Victor Feldman and arranged by MacDonald glows with effervesce precision allowing room for the musicians to express their voices within the context embracing relevant musical nuances that consistently satisfies my taste buds for good jazz.

Woody ‘n You” penned by jazz great Dizzy Gillespie fuses the rudiments of jazz and Latin music superbly. Amazingly, MacDonald reinvents this undeniably fresh Latin inspired jazz tune with a hint of Salsa stitched around the edges also with a splash of Mambo tossed in for flavoring supersedes my expectations!

On the tastefully melodic “Character Defect,” MacDonald says: “I find that improvisation / composition and problem solving are intrinsically related.” Bingo … he unpacks this musical dilemma masterfully to unleash and approachable listener friendly jewel linking two ideas into one captivating gem.

Bu Who,” is a tribute to the belated jazz drummer extraordinaire Art Blakely. Art was boldly considered by his peers as the godfather of grooming future musical legacies to explore the realm of jazz from within their own cosmic voices successfully. The validity in sound expressed here by the soloist features Michael Mossman – trumpet, Craig Brenan – trombone and MacDonald on piano clearly states the importance of knowing the language of jazz and defining it with a profound sensitivity.

The warm and sensitive tone of “Jana’s Song” closes out this magnificent session by Earl MacDonald and friends. MacDonald described this tune as being a “gentle jazz waltz.” Consequently, this jewel was written and arranged by MacDonald for his wife and wedding ceremony! Obviously heartfelt, this gem offers a lingering serene affect which captures the beauty of this moment perfectly. He later transcribed this piece into a full blown orchestra arrangement which was selected as a finalist for the Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Award in 2007.

After in depth listening to “Re:VISIONS,” … I’m delighted to say without hesitation this recording by Earl MacDonald is a more then welcomed addition to my music collection. The music on “Re:VISIONS” has volumes of complex shapes and patterns transforming this mesmerizing recording into near perfect symmetry through the vessel of improvisation, elegant arrangements and impressive musicianship by an artist who fully understands the art of making music.

Rob Young