Saxophonist Kirk MacDonald—an exemplary player, composer, band leader and educator—has established himself as one of Canada’s premier jazz musicians. His compositions are geared to mainstream jazz, but he uses several tributaries to blood them and generate nuggets of energy and rumination.
MacDonald’s integrity as a player is defined by his versatility. He can forge ahead and find unexpected nooks of delight that tantalize, or he can go deep into the fabric of a ballad and spin a skein of warm melodic lines. Whatever the mood, the sentiment is palpable. Helping him achieve that plateau is the same band that elevatedSongbook Vol. 1 (Addo Records, 2010) to a highly pleasurable listening experience.
“The Torchbearers” finds Macdonald pushing the envelope of bop. His turns of phrase and swift manifestation of ideas keep momentum in high gear with sturdy, yet pliant phrasing. Pianist David Virelles frames the concept, with a light touch that dances into the melody and then fills it with nuances. With drummer Barry Romberg giving the rhythm a crisp, crackling groove and showing just why he is a fount of supple energy, this tune turns out to be a signal cut on the record.
The haunting melody of “Vanda Justina” captures the imagination from the first note. After a heartfelt exposition of the melody, Macdonald turns on the heat and uncorks a sizzling dollop of runs, before he returns to infuse some tender sensitivity. Virelles, at first laidback and introspective, nourishes the progression with limpid flourishes and creates a niche of his own. And as always, the rhythm section is spot on, with bassist Neil Swainson, another jazz veteran, keeping the pulse locked in steady time.
A romping head turns somber on “New Beginnings,” when MacDonald comes in. That is only the beginning of a slew of ideas as he moves into a happier frame loosening a series of bends that fragment linearity. Virelles’s crystalline runs and subtle shifts of time and space add to this well fathomed excursion.
The quartet is in top form and this CD merits close listening.
Track Listing: You See But You Don’t Hear; Vanda Justina; The Torchbearers; Starlight; Deep Shadows; Miniature; New Beginnings.
Personnel: Kirk MacDonald: saxophone; David Virelles: piano; Neil Swainson: bass; Barry Romberg: drums. Written by Jerry D’Souza for All About Jazz (link to original review)