The Earl MacDonald 6: Echoes In The Night (2005)
"There's gold in them there hills!... One could say this about Echoes In The Night, the debut album from the Earl MacDonald 6. The work was recorded in the hills of Storrs, on the University of Connecticut campus. That's where the "country ends and the sophistication begins. The sound and style of this album is totally cosmopolitan, modern, and fresh.
Pianist MacDonald (a veteran of Maynard Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau band, where he was musical director) is now director of jazz studies at the University of Connecticut. His connections in the jazz world are myriad, allowing him to assemble a stellar sextet with credentials a mile long. Dick Oatts plays alto saxophone, and Steve Davis's super-mellow trombone combines with Joe Magnarelli's razor-sharp trumpet riffs to achieve an effect which differs from the brass-and-tenor tradition of Horace Silver or Art Blakey. MacDonald's chords shine in front of this tight combination, supported by bassist Dave Santoro and timekeeper Tom Melito.
This strong group of improvisers is so stylistically simpatico it may come as a surprise that the album was recorded live at only its third outing as a sextet; the performance is that tight. Jazz mainstreamers will find this music delightfully approachable, even though standards are absent here but for "East of the Sun and West of the Moon (although the chord changes in "Bad Dream were stolen from "You Stepped Out Of A Dream ).
Avant-garde lovers will delight in the subtle way these players stray again and again from dyed-in-the-wool generic sounds. This is due in no small part to the fact that they're all fine composers as well. Oatts describes his "A Change Will Come as a tune that for him "...defines harmonic change and growth... and despite the chord changes pulsating in the song, he says it "...offer[s] a soothing and relaxed rhythmic feel to explore modulation without panic, which it does.
There's no panic here, just a cool harmonic, improvisational journey beginning with post bop and ending up pushing the envelope. The performance is filled with class, perfect modulation, and good taste. Now, there are bigger stars experimenting with teaching the hard bop "dog new tricks. However, this band of friends' "puppy dog is just fine.
Track Listing: 1. The Owe Joe (Dick Oatts); 2. East of the Sun (Brooks Bowman); 3. Echoes in the Night (Steve Davis); 4. Jana's Song (Earl MacDonald); 5. Bad Dream (Earl MacDonald); 6. Firm Grip (Earl MacDonald); 7. Lou Ann (Joe Magnarelli); 8. A Change Will Come (Dick Oatts); 9. The Bidwell Cronies (Earl MacDonald)
Personnel: Earl Macdonald, piano; Dick Oatts, alto saxophone; Joe Magnarelli, trumpet; Steve Davis, trombone; Dave Santoro, bass; Tom Melito, drums.