Stan Kenton-UW Eau Claire / Kirk MacDonald Orchestra / Kansas City Jazz Orchestra
Given the time frame and circumstances, the sound quality on Disc 2 is remarkably crisp and clean, transcending in some respects the studio sonority on Disc 1. Save for the Concertgebouw performance, whose over-all sound is no more than decent, the orchestra seems uncommonly energetic and "alive," perhaps because it was performing for audiences whose response fanned the creative fire. Each of the three volumes released to date has much to recommend it, with Volume 1 easing ahead in these precincts by the slimmest of margins thanks to the superb DePaul University ensemble. But the Nova orchestra (Volume 2) makes it a close call, as does UW-Eau Claire, while the Kenton orchestra is typically persuasive throughout.
Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra
Presumably, there is no law in Canada requiring that a big-band leader's last name begin with "Mc" or "Mac," even though most available evidence would seem to indicate otherwise. First came Rob McConnell (and the incomparable Boss Brass), then Dave McMurdo, followed by Ian McDougall, Dan McNeill, John MacLeod and now Kirk MacDonald whose debut big-band album, Deep Shadows, carries on the tradition and does his kindred Mcs and Macs proud.
Not only did MacDonald write every number (five were arranged by trumpeter Joe Sullivan, the other three by trombonist Terry Promane}, his is one of the more engaging solo voices in an orchestra that is jam-packed with them. MacDonald's sumptuous tenor saxophone is showcased on the lovely waltz "Calendula" and dreamy "Deep Shadows," and he solos again with veteran guitarist Lorne Lofsky (so good to hear him again) on the variable yet persuasive opener, "New Piece," with alto P.J. Perry and trombonist Alastair Kay on the Boss Brass-like "Starlight" (dedicated to the memory of Rob McConnell). Perry and tenor Pat LaBarbera are the soloists on the ballad "Goodbye Glenn," Lofsky and soprano Mark Promane on the breezy "Greenwich Time," trumpeter Sullivan, trombonist Promane and drummer Barry Romberg on the minor-key "Eleven," Lofsky, LaBarbera, trumpeter Rob Smith and pianist Nancy Walker on the groovy "New Beginnings." Several of the names should be well-known to Canadian and other jazz enthusiasts who recall their tenure with McConnell, McMurdo and some of the other ensembles alluded to earlier.
MacDonald, who is above all a serious musician, waited until the proper moment to put his orchestra to the test, an examination it passes with flying colors, thanks in no small measure to the wealth of experience and talent spread among the various sidemen (and woman). While Deep Shadows eschews much of the sound and fury often associated with big bands, it succeeds on its own terms, presenting music that is both cerebral and charming. And while MacDonald's name is on the marquee, the album is in every respect a team effort, with everyone in the lineup contributing sizably to the collective enterprise. Deep Shadows is a pleasure to hear and easy to recommend.
Kansas City Jazz Orchestra
Live on the Plaza
Live on the Plaza is comprised of thirteen numbers performed by the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra during seven concerts over a four-year period from 2003-06. If it is meant to represent the "best" of the KCJO, it succeeds on almost every level. The ensemble is in superior form throughout, as are its splendid guest artistssinger Ernie Andrews ("You Are So Beautiful") and Deborah Brown ("My Favorite Things"), trumpeter Byron Stripling ("Tiger Rag"), tenor saxophonist Houston Person ("A Sunday Kind of Love") and drummer Harold Jones ("Shiny Stockings").