The Donavan/Muradian Quintet, or DMQ, an outfit formerly and somewhat confusingly known as The Nairobi Trio (the name derives from the mechanical primate band featured on The Ernie Kovacs Show of the 1950s), is the brainchild of drummer Jeff Donovan and bassist Larry Muradian. The two Californians have played together for 25 years throughout the Pasadena area and beyond. In 1998 they issued an album of standards penned by jazz greats—Coltrane, Cannonball, Wayne Shorter, et al.—under the apt title Straight Ahead. Pacifico is clearly the work of these same two co-leaders, but it comes in the wake of a name change, a new line-up, and a decision to feature original material.
Saxophonist Chuck Manning and trumpeter Kye Palmer leap into “Progress Hornsby,” the first track, with a bright and smooth Land/Brown head. Donavan rolls out an intro and then maintains a steady, quickstep, swinging pace; Muradian is content to keep to the shadows, climbing and descending. Following a repeat of the head, pianist Curtis Brengle enters with flourishes and strides, paving the way for Palmer to crescendo and subside. Manning slips in and builds to a point when he takes his sax on several spiralling flights. Then Palmer resumes and the group rapidly solos in reverse order, punctuated by Donavan’s fills. If the description of “Progress Hornsby” sounds like a feverish announcer narrating a neck-and-neck horse race, that’s because it is.
Donavan and Muradian demonstrate their telepathic teamwork well into the next track, a slinky, laid back number entitled “Ze Bonita Blues.” They take only about thirty seconds to alternate bowed bass and drums, but it’s enough to show the sixth sense they’ve developed toward each other. There is some impressive soloing all around. It’s the kind of playing where the listener expects to hear applause after each solo—that, say, or an enthusiastic “Yeah!” or an emphatic “Mmm-hmm!” after a particularly intense or nimble passage.
Lee Morgan’s “Hocus Pocus” gets a solid treatment, if not a bit too reverential. For the most part, however, the five performers here prefer to stand on the shoulders of their influences, not in their shadows. During his second solo on the Morgan chart, Palmer can’t resist quoting some of Clifford Brown’s sprightly phrasing from “Joy Spring.” On the title track, Manning gives a sly, Coltrane-like solo on the soprano sax without slipping into sycophancy. “Nairobi A Go-Go” is the lighthearted union of surf rock and a Freddie Hubbard project.
Pacifico doesn’t just earn high marks, it reinforces the standard by which the mainstream hard bop of today should be judged. Excellent, endlessly gratifying stuff.
Visit the Donavan/Muradian Quintet on the web.
Track Listing: 1. Progress Hornsby 2. Ze Bonita Blues 3. Hocus Pocus 4. Pacifico 5. Thelonius Mike 6. Nairobi A Go-Go 7. Blue Waltz 8. Forget About It 9. Spruce Street 10. Ned
Personnel: Jeff Donavan: drums ; Larry Muradian: bass; Curtis Brengle: piano; Chuck Manning: tenor and soprano sax; Kye Palmer: trumpet and flugelhorn
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