Open Borders Reviews

 

 

 

 

Earl MacDonald: Open Borders
All-About-Jazz
By Mike Jurkovic

Not many piano led ensembles finds the pianist laying as far back in the musical dialogue as Earl MacDonald, who doesn’t come anywhere near an extended solo until “Miles Apart” and Percy Mayfield‘s Ray Charles blow- out “Hit The Road Jack” (tracks five and six respectively). But that’s just fine given that MacDonald has charted the conversations and man oh man, do these arrangements crackle with spirit.

From the high-flying “Dig In Buddy” to the exhilarating Latin flavors “Dolphy Dance,” MacDonald’s prodigious gifts as an arranger shine as the horns sway and dance to such a degree that, if you close your eyes and listen, you can envision a whole dance floor of zoot suits and high skirts. And there’s a full bandstand of seven horns powering Open Borders irrepressible groove.

With all his players coming from different influences, styles, and walks of life, the communal swing they find and thrive mightily on makes the notion of open borders even more commanding. They push, pull and celebrate loud on Jackie McLean‘s “Appointment in Ghana,” evidence more so of MacDonald’s musical sense of control and candor. Open your mind and cross the borders.


 

 

 

 

 

Earl MacDonald: Open Borders
JazzTrail.net
By Filipe Freitas

Pianist, composer, arranger, conductor, and educator Earl MacDonald, a native of Winnipeg, Canada, leads a 10-piece ensemble on his new album Open Boarders. Besides original material, his fourth outing as a leader also includes carefully selected tunes authored by both acclaimed and not so known musicians, as well as celebrated jazz standards.

Dig In Buddy”, composed by Alberta’s drummer Tyler Hornby, bursts with a compelling arrangement sparkled by fantastic rhythmic accentuations and magnifying unisons, at the same time that favors individual extemporizations selected from the bountiful horn section. Initially, tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery and trombonist Sara Jacovino collide for a brief period, but then split, alternating every two, and then four, bars of improvised statements. Josh Evans made a pompous entrance evoking a noticeable phrase from Freddie Hubbard on Art Blakey’s version of “Moanin”, and there was still space for drummer Bern Bilello appear, well backed by opportune horn fills.

Sordid Sort of Fellow” offers up the swinging verve from the 60s as it carries much of that bop feel in his arms. Again, Evans quotes recognizable phrases from other times while improvising with Hubbard-esque lucidity. MacDonald also stands out with a two-hand demonstration on how to groove within the harmony.

Even thickened with powerful layers of sound, Jackie McLean’s “Appointment in Ghana” evinces a legitimate lightness that is put to the test during Lauren Sevian’s opulent baritone solo. She is momentarily left alone with the drums for a further kicking effect.

While “Miles Apart” expresses the cool-toned qualities of a ballad that finishes with a perhaps too abrupt fade out, both “Smoke and Mirrors” and Jerrold Dubyk’s “Catch of the Day” are dazzling, shapeshifting pieces pushed forward by the highly coordinated actions of the band. However, if the former displays multiple transitions in rhythm (funky beats with bass grooves, a vainglorious march brought up by snare eruptions, a rock flow adorned with horn unisons and counterpoint, and a final trumpet-piano poem in the form of gentle prayer), the latter assumes a metamorphic, daring posture when alternating time signatures.

After casting a strong Latin spell with the percussive “Dolphy Dance”, which starts as a ternary fantasia but veers into a 4/4 salsa big band, the album closes with the popular “East of the Sun”, completely transformed by the unique vocal touch of guest singer Atla DeChamplain and piqued by Kris Allen’s striking solo on top of punchy chords emanated from the Fender Rhodes.

Diversity, dynamism, and equilibrium are fundamental aspects in Earl MacDonald’s music making. These eleven stylishly orchestrated pieces are a pure reflection of his musical capabilities.

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 – Dig In Buddy ► 07 – Smoke and Mirrors ► 08 – Catch of the Day


 

 

 

Earl MacDonald: Open Borders
All-About-Jazz
By DAN BILAWSKY

Politicians might do well to take a few pointers from pianist-arranger Earl MacDonald. As this fine album attests to, it’s far better to build bridges than walls, and far more productive to open borders and dialogue than close hearts, minds, and doors.

While MacDonald didn’t initially set out to make a political statement with this recording, both the events of the day and the make-up of the marvelously tight dectet that brings this music to life got him thinking about all the good that comes of a wholehearted embrace of diversity. The differences that theoretically separate these ten musicians—age, faith, race, sex, and heritage—don’t serve as impediments to communication or act as a threat to anybody’s greater being. In fact, quite the opposite comes of this medium-scale gathering. This music, powered by each player’s distinctive traits and bound by MacDonald’s writing, shines with the light of diversity.

MacDonald’s reduction/adaptation of his big band arrangement on Canadian drummer Tyler Hornby‘s “Dig In Buddy” opens the album and serves as the perfect introduction to his writing and the men and women behind this music. It’s a swinging chart that takes a modern slant on a Jazz Messengers sound. More than half the personnel is showcased through mini-solo slots, and two voices of note—alto saxophonist Kris Allen and trumpeter Josh Evans—stand in the spotlight. It need be noted, however, that this is not your garden variety blowing tune. Ever the thoughtful arranger, MacDonald makes sure that the band provides finely crafted riffs and guideposts—”solo enhancements,” as he prefers to call them—to keep things moving and hold interest. His own “Sordid Sort Of Fellow” follows and, to a certain extent, follows suit. It’s a twist on “Rhythm” changes that opens with a snazzy, brush-driven statement and features a show-stealing MacDonald solo. The leader’s gifts with the pen are apparent on both of those tracks, as the sound of ten can balloon to the sonic proportions of twenty or fold inward to sound like a small combo.

While those first two numbers speak to an upbeat swing aesthetic, what follows offers a wider range of expressions. “Mirror Of The Mind,” taking cues from Aaron Copland’s grand aural landscapes, opens on a gorgeous chorale-like portrait before riding atop a steady eighth chassis; “Miles Apart” has a bluer-than-blue identity, slowly swinging and singing; the programmatic “Smoke And Mirrors,” speaking to a fictitious leader’s dirty secret and a related rise and fall in fortunes, marries noir-ish thoughts and classical notions before sharply veering into funk territory and moving into quieter questioning realms; and “Dolphy Dance” is an imagining of the great Eric Dolphy‘s horn voice taking root in the New York salsa scene.

As far as soloists go, MacDonald, Evans, Allen, tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, and baritone saxophonist Lauren Sevian prove to be the standouts. But everybody makes their mark at one time or another. Alex Gertner’s French horn is central to the success of “Smoke And Mirrors,” drummer Ben Bilello is a force of controlled dynamism, trombonist Sara Jacovino makes her personality felt in a variety of situations, trumpeter Jeff Holmesaccentuates the mood on “Miles Apart,” and bassist Henry Lugo is the glue that holds things together. Add to the list percussionist Ricardo Monzon, who drops by to add a touch of spice to “Dolphy Dance,” and guest vocalist Atla DeChamplain, who joins the band for an “East Of The Sun” sendoff. The message here is clear: forget homogeneity and xenophobia. Diversity is the ultimate tool for unification.

Track Listing: Dig In Buddy; Sordid Sort Of Fellow; Mirror Mind; Appointment In Ghana; Miles Apart; Hit The Road Jack; Smoke And Mirrors; Catch Of The Day; Blame It On My Youth; Dolphy Dance; East Of The Sun.

Personnel: Earl MacDonald: piano; Kris Allen: alto saxophone; Wayne Escoffery: tenor saxophone; Lauren Sevian: baritone saxophone; Jeffrey Holmes: trumpet; Josh Evans: trumpet; Alex Gertner: French horn; Sara Jacovino: trombone; Ben Bilello: drums; Henry Lugo: bass; Atla DeChamplain: vocals (11); Ricardo Monzon: percussion (10).


Midwest Record - Entertainment Reviews, News and Views

 

 

MIDWEST RECORD
Volume 40/Number 357
October 24, 2017
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher 
Copyright 2017 Midwest Record

DEATH DEFYING
EARL MacDONALD/Open Borders:  Funky, big band sounding soul jazz that has music so bright it comes in colors.  A wild set that doesn’t believe in boundaries even if it does believe in structure. This set gives you a feeling of what Stan Kenton would be doing if he was still doing it his way today, with the help of Holman and those cats, of course.  Tasty stuff for the real jazzbo, this is inspired playing that really delivers the goods well.  Hot stuff throughout.


 

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