Earl MacDonald and the Creative Opportunity Workshop: Mirror of the Mind (2013)
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Not satisfied with the traditional jazz spectrum, pianist and educator Earl MacDonald explores new ways of expressing his progressive taste and with Mirror of the Mind deciding to challenge the boundaries of jazz with a unique instrumentation and sound forged by his new band, Creative Opportunity Workshop. As Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut and former director of Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau Band, MacDonald has had plenty of experience in the large ensemble circuit and with the traditional side of jazz (nominated for 2011 Canadian Juno Awards for "Traditional Jazz Album of the Year"). This new venture is quite different from that mold beginning with a new scaled down group and instrumentation featuring a front line saxophone and a rhythm section of piano, percussion and a cello.
The music is just as much of a departure drawing elements from classical, pop, rock, the progressive side of jazz and others. Influences on the recording come from a variety of sources including the Beatles, Brahms, Johnny Mandel, Chick Corea, Ornette Coleman and even Nat "King" Cole. The somewhat down tempo opening title track quickly reveals the new influences capturing tenor saxophonist Kris Allen and the slight percussive flair of the piece with percussionist Rogerio Boccato. MacDonald keys in the introduction to "A Thousand Memories" takes some right-hand liberties and lets Allen and Boccato draw the featured roles on the nearest traditional tune of the disc.
There are only two covers with the Lennon/McCartney piece "Blackbird" being the first and highlighting Christopher Hoffman on the cello as well as the saxophonist on soprano before the leader takes over with stellar Corea-styled piano riff. "Bidwell Cronies" harkens back to the Jelly Roll Morton influence while the light-textured "Disillusionment" and "Miles Apart" convey a similar earthly mood. MacDonald and Hoffman perform a haunting duet on the introduction to the dark-styled "A Priori Perception" where the music remains classically cloudy.
Complete with dark-humored laughter from members of the band, unusual sounds like one may find in an avant-garde or free style jazz piece, the appropriately-titled "Where Thinking Leaves Off," is perhaps the most challenging track to appreciate. Nevertheless, this concept album winds down on the Arthur Hamilton cover "I Never Told You" and the exceptional "Bottom Feeders" completing a purposely designed non-traditional musical statement.
Pianist Earl MacDonald succeeds in carving out a brand new niche for himself separating his past from this new vision of jazz yet to be clearly defined. A cleaver and innovative production from one of the most accomplished pianist in the business, Mirror of the Mind is truly a challenging listen taking jazz to a different level, one in which pianist Earl MacDonald and his Creative Opportunity Workshop are the pioneers.
Track Listing: Mirror of the Mind; A Thousand Memories; Beneath; Blackbird; Bidwell
Cronies; Disillusionment; Miles Apart; It Was Whispered; A Priori
Perception; Where Thinking Leaves Off; I Never Told You; Bottom
Personnel: Earl MacDonald: piano; Kris Allen: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone,
soprano saxophone; Christopher Hoffman: cello; Rogerio Boccato:
Record Label: Death Defying Records
Style: Big Band