All reviews for Earl MacDonald’s new album, “Consecrated” are being compiled below. Just released on Friday, Sept. 24th, 2021, the album is “hot off the presses.”
All About Jazz
by Dan Bilawsky
December 26th, 2021
The searching spirit that drives the work of composer and pianist Earl MacDonald is both a reflection on musical curiosity and, to a deeper extent, a statement of faith. Bringing both of those identity-shaping aspects to the fore like never before, MacDonald uses Consecrated to work toward a higher purpose. Reshaping and resetting a series of traditional hymns in sophisticated yet accessible fashion, he conveys the core values of his Christian beliefs—love, kindness, charity—with class and creative purpose.
These arrangements, using vocalist Karly Epp to deliver the good word(s) with clarity and beauty, largely respect the melodic architecture of the psalms in play while also taking the opportunity to redefine or broaden the structures that house them. MacDonald walks a fine line in those dealings, displaying great wisdom along the way. “Be Still, My Soul,” with some added spring in its step, Epp’s pure-voiced delivery, Karl Kohut’s pivotal bass line, David Smith’s trumpet obbligato, and solos highlighting the leader’s lightly flowing right hand lines, saxophonist Kris Allen’s soulful voice (on soprano) and Kohut’s excellent ears and reflexes, is the first and, perhaps, chief example of what MacDonald is capable of producing in this context. But the nine numbers that follow it are no less important. They further this angle of expression in fascinating ways.
Moving past the opener, a slow, spiritually-infused swing underscores and guides “O God of Love, Grant Us Your Peace.” Then nurturing feelings surround a waltzing and uniquely colorful “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” and a relatively routine introduction of “Holy, Holy, Holy” takes a slight turn when some bossa-esque, straight-eighth time takes over. Those opening numbers, and three additional works from the second half of the program, are brought to life by a sensitive sextet—MacDonald, Epp, Allen, Smith, Kohut and drummer Rogerio Boccato—but two of the ten pieces on the album move a bit beyond that personnel. The slightly brooding “By Our Love,” which became the springboard for a video project surrounding “incongruities between faith practices and politics” (offered at www.by-our-love.com), deals in broader brass strokes with the addition of Alex Gertner on French horn and Sean Nelson on bass trombone; and Nelson makes a return appearance for “The Love of God,” a performance that puts forth glistening and gliding thoughts atop a “Poinciana”-like groove.
Bridging the sacred and secular with this work, MacDonald makes high art that demonstrates how traditions and innovation can happily coexist and even benefit from symbiotic suggestions. Jazz and faith rarely bond with such beauty and sympathy.
The Hartford Courant
by Chip McCabe
Dec. 26, 2021
Jazz fans in Connecticut should be more than familiar with the name Earl MacDonald. Now on album seven, the acclaimed pianist and arranger has made a name for himself both as an educator and as a purveyor of unique jazz hybrids. On his newest album, “Consecrated,” MacDonald tackles traditional Christian hymns. Don’t expect something you’d hear in the average church service though, as MacDonald matches the poetic lyrics with equally poetic jazz, seemingly influenced by the cool jazz of the ‘50s and ‘60s. MacDonald has culled together an exceptional array of talent on this album, highlighted by vocalist Karly Epp. earlmacdonald.bandcamp.com
The Hartford Jazz Society
Dec. 26, 2021
Pianist, composer, and professor Earl MacDonald is the department head of UConn’s Jazz Studies program. His seventh and newest album, “Consecrated” is both a musical and spiritual exploration of traditional Christian hymns. While some of his compositions have strong gospel roots, MacDonald takes a modern and sophisticated and very personal approach to the arrangements and instrumentation. As a bandleader, he gives each of the five musicians on the album plenty of room for individual expression. And strong performances by Canadian vocalist Karly Epp, saxophonist Kris Allen, and bassist Karl Kohut add depth and nuance to the music. The Hartford Courant has selected this fine album as one of Connecticut’s top 20 albums of 2021.
The Canada native and now Connecticut resident Earl MacDonald has been quite prolific with 7 albums under his belt now. Consecrated places more emphasis on vocals, where Karly Epp pulls off an incredible performance, and David Smith brings trumpet/flugelhorn, Kris Allen holds down saxophone, Karl Kohut plays bass, and Rogerio Boccato sits behind the drum kit.
“Be Still, My Soul” starts the listen with Epp’s sublime and smooth vocals guiding the warm jazz climate that showcases MacDonald’s proficient piano playing, and “O God Of Love, Grant Us Your Peace” follows with Smith’s strategic horn amid the expressive singing and cautious landscape.
Entering the middle, “Holy, Holy, Holy” moves with much emotion, where elegance is present amid Kohut’s well timed bass playing, while “By Our Love” recruits french horn from Alex Gertner and bass trombone thanks to Sean Nelson for the stylish delivery that uses vocal scatting with much impact. “Take My Life, And Let It Be Consecrated” is the album standout, and pairs poetic singing with playful interaction between the drums, and keys for a meticulously textured adventure.
“Be Thou My Vision” arrives late in the listen, and moves with a soulful quality in its heartfelt demeanor, and “In His Holy Temple” exits the listen with firm drumming and dreamy vocals in the more experimental finish to a very well thought out listen.
A highly personal outing for MacDonald, there’s a nice balance between spiritual moments and frisky bouts of swing fun that make for an exceptional modern jazz record.
Pianist Earl MacDonald designed Consecrated as a modern jazz album that pays tribute to the values and teachings of his Christian faith, as opposed to what passes for Christianity in political discussions today. The words that vocalist Karly Epp sings on the ten pieces include “Be Still” (which takes its lyrics from the Bible) and poems and writings that date as far back as 1752; only three pieces are from as recent as the 20th century. Most of the melodies are nearly as old but Epp’s straightforward and fetching singing, along with MacDonald’s arrangements, make the music seem both timeless and contemporary. The playing by the quintet is modern, sometimes hinting at John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner but generally a bit gentler with more concise solos. MacDonald is joined by Kris Allen (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes) who is particularly effective on soprano, trumpeter-flugelhornist David Smith, bassist Karl Kohut, and drummer Rogerio Boccato. French horn and/or bass trombone are added for color on two numbers.“Be Still My Soul,” the waltz “Sweet Hour Of Prayer,” the complex “By Our Love,” and the heated trumpet solo on “Take My Life, And Let It Be Consecrated” are among the highlights although every selection has a colorful arrangement, strong solos, often a hummable melody, and fine singing. Even for those who have little interest in religion, Consecrated makes for an enjoyable listen. It is available from www.outsideinmusic.com.
****RINGER OF THE WEEK****
THE GREAT PROTESTANT SONGBOOK…Earl MacDonald: Consecrated
There are Standards, and there are Standards. We’ve got the Great American Songbook for jazzers, but rarely are the songs of the spiritual side of Americas music ever explored by jazz artists. Pianist and arranger Earl MacDonald makes an excellent effort in starting a new genre of material, taking songs from the hymnals in which he sings on Sunday mornings and putting them into a modern jazz context. The heavenly focused lyrics are delivered by the lithe toned Karly Epp, supported by Kris Allen/saxes, David Smith/tp-fh, Karl Kohut/b, Rogerio Boccato/dr and guest brass players Alex Gertner/frh and Sean Nelson/btb.
The presentations range from Coltrane-ish modal moods with Allen’s soprano pleading along with Epp on “O God Of Love, Grant Us Your Peace” or a dark rumble led by Boccato and Smith’s horn on “By Our Love” to an indie-toned “Take My Life, And Let It Be Consecrated” with Epp in a reflective reverence. Boccato’s brushes team with hovering reeds on the meditative “Sweet Hour of Prayer” and create a “Poinciana” cadence with his cymbals on “The Love Of God”. There’s a meditative contemplation of “In His Holy Temple” and a mix of swing and supplication on “Be Still My Soul” that makes the album feel timeless in its treasures. As CS Lewis once said, “anything not eternally focused is eternally obsolete”. This is music to last for a millennia.
Ivan Rod – Danish journalist, reviewer, author and editor
Oct. 20, 2021
Earl MacDonald is a sought-after and recognized jazz pianist, composer and arranger from Canada – a man with several award-winning jazz records in his own name. Consecrated, his seventh album as a leader, is however, the first on which a vocalist is the central “instrument.” At the forefront of the soundscape is the promising, young, Canadian singer, Karly Epp, who impeccably and confidently colors the album’s material. Earl MacDonald has constantly recorded with varied configurations, larger and smaller, and now also with a singer; that is exactly what testifies to his restless, alchemical urge to seek new paths and expressions. Also, as something new, the material on Consecrated is religious – it consists of traditional hymns that are subjected to a jazzy upgrade, which in itself, but also thanks to the singer, brings impressive new energy and lyrical elegance into the music and the religious/spiritual content. The overall picture – and MacDonald’s own piano playing for that matter – is exemplary. Not nice. Not flawless. But lush, sensual, and vibrant.
Original post, in Danish: http://www.ivanrod.dk/2021/09/24/earl-macdonald-consecrated/
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
Oct. 19, 2021
Earl MacDonald: Consecrated
Outside in Music
Earl MacDonald’s Consecrated is so appealing, it could win over even the most ardent follower of Richard Dawkins, one of the better-known progenitors of the so-called ‘New Atheism’ movement. One is struck by the sincerity and dignity with which the Canadian-born, Conneticut-based pianist presents the traditional hymns and by the care with which they’ve been arranged and performed. Ten pieces feature the core sextet of MacDonald, vocalist Karly Epp, trumpeter David Smith, saxophonist Kris Allen, bassist Karl Kohut, and drummer Rogerio Boccato, with French hornist Alex Gertner and trombonist Sean Nelson guesting on a couple of tracks.
Consecrated is a spiritual album and a very personal one for MacDonald, but it’s other things too. With respect to the governing musical sensibility, it’s a jazz set enriched by high-quality soloing; it’s also, however, a vocal album, given how prominently his fellow Canadian Epp is featured. Each setting is thus many things at once: a religious statement, a jazz-informed performance, and a hymn clothed in vocal song garb. It’s to MacDonald’s credit that a symbiotic balance is achieved in each setting, regardless of the stylistic differences between the performances. Balance is struck too between the vocals and accompaniment, with the mellifluous latter carefully crafted to complement but not overpower the singing.
Guided by his Christian faith, MacDonald’s approach is both reverential and community-minded: genuine love of God is professed but also love for one’s neighbours. The earnest expression of the musicians dovetails with that credo, as do the texts sung by Epp. Her delivery is restrained though not unappealingly so, and hearing her soft, pretty voice sing the words free of gratuitous ornamentation is consistent with the humble spirit of the project. In keeping with that community theme, the recording is international as it involves four Canadians, one Brazilian, and one American (interesting too is the fact that all six of the core band members hold academic positions as jazz educators in the U.S. and Canada). Complementing the singing is the instrumental approach, which is similarly tasteful, though that doesn’t mean vitality’s absent.
Sibelius fans will immediately identify his music as the instrumental backdrop to “Be Still, My Soul.” It’s a template-setter of sorts when Epp enunciates the lyrics with character but sans embellishment and the others elevate the piece with sophisticated solos, the leader on acoustic piano followed by Allen (on soprano) and Kohut. In initiating the tune with a slow, modal-styled attack, MacDonald and company seem to be channeling John Coltrane’s classic quartet for “O God of Love, Grant Us Your Peace,” an impression heightened by another soprano turn by Allen. Elsewhere, Smith elevates “Sweet Hour of Prayer” with an attractive flugelhorn solo, and an attractive chorale-styled intro paves the way for a breezy treatment of “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Indicative of the heights MacDonald’s album reaches are the grandly swinging “Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated” and “The Love of God,” which appeals for its warm, Latin-tinged pulse and lustrous horns.
Consecrated might be the only time MacDonald issues a project of this kind; after all, the albums preceding it range from one featuring a quartet of cello, saxophone, piano, and percussion to another by a seventeen-piece big band, so it’s anyone’s guess what lies ahead. Broached on its own terms, however, Consecrated has a lot to recommend itself, from the sincerity of its expression to the elegant performances by all involved. Regardless of one’s religious persuasion, the release impresses for the polish of its presentation, the richness of its melodies, and the obvious care with which it was created.
The Belleville Intelligencer
A speed-dating review of new music that deserves your attention
by David Reed
Belleville, Ontario, Canada
Oct. 7, 2021
Earl MacDonald – Consecrated
(Outside In Music, 2021)
Acclaimed jazz pianist Earl MacDonald presents an album of traditional hymns in a jazz styling, and featuring vocalist Karly Epp. It is a moving and reflective collection, tenderly interpreted with a warm and colourful sound. Be Still, My Soul immediately grabs the listeners’ attention and draws you in. Be Thou My Vision is compelling and honest. Other highlights include Sweet Hour of Prayer and Take My Life and Let It be Consecrated.
© 2021 The Belleville Intelligencer, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.
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(syndicated in the digital editions of a number of other papers)
Volume 45/Number 320
September 20, 2021
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Lake Zurich, Illinois
Copyright 2021 Midwest Record
EARL MacDONALD/Consecrated: It’s not that it’s never been done, it’s just not done that often. MacDonald turns his estimable talents to a set of jazz for Jesus where most of the songs are adapted from things from the 1800s. More focused on doing the right thing that prothelizing, the easy going vibe takes you in before you fully get what you’re listening to. This is the right kind of message to send at all of it’s sonic levels.
(Outside In Music 2115)
Jazz-квадрат: новости современного джаза, обзоры, интервью
by Leonid Auskern at the Russian jazz site, Jazz Quad.
Sept. 15, 2021
Most music lovers are familiar with the powerful, emotionally-charged sound of Black gospel music. The Consecrated album also offers us a collection of stylized religious hymns – but how different they sound, presented with an authentic jazz instrumentation and a comparatively different manner of singing from the Canadian vocalist, Karly Epp. Feelings of boundless love and faith, sincere supplication, and perhaps even sentimentality are at the forefront. It also touches the soul of the listener, albeit in a different way from traditional gospel music.
Consecrated is a project that has long been nurtured by Earl MacDonald, the Canadian pianist and composer, who now lives in the United States. The very accomplished musician also serves as professor and head of the jazz program at the University of Connecticut. By the way, all the participants on the recording also teach jazz at various universities. Earl was looking for a vocalist for this program for a long time, and upon meeting Karly Epp, he took decisive action, realizing he had found exactly the person he needed. Epp’s gentle, very sincere voice was perfect for these traditional themes. But the instrumentalists in Consecrated are by no means secondary. Bassist Karl Kohut is very good, especially in Be Still, My Soul and O God of Love, Grant Us Your Peace. Rogerio Boccato’s drums sound like the voice of fate in the intro to By Our Love and In His Holy Temple. By Our Love is the album’s longest and only fully instrumental composition, with the drums’ solo replaced by winds and an effective piano part from MacDonald himself. As I listened to Consecrated, I thought this music would sound especially profound during the Christmas season (although it would be difficult to attribute the album to a specific genre of Christmas music).
Original post, in Russian: https://jazzquad.ru/index.pl?act=PRODUCT&id=6017
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