KMJO is shorthand for the Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra, and Common Ground is the third recording by the splendid Toronto-based group, following the well-received Deep Shadows (2011) and Family Suite for Large Ensemble (2012). This time around, the orchestra performs compositions by MacDonald arranged by one of Canada's premier co-pilots, Joe Sullivan.
The KMJO, MacDonald asserts, is comprised of world-class musicians, an assurance that is impressively confirmed on every number, not only by the ensemble's unerring consonance but by the brilliance of its individual members, many of whose names should be familiar to those who have any knowledge of and appreciation for big-band jazz. Trumpeters Sullivan, Brian O'Kane and Kevin Turcotte; saxophonists PJ Perry, Pat LaBarbera and Perry White ; trombonists Alastair Kay and Terry Promane, guitarist Lorne Lofsky and bassist Neil Swainson have helped enrich the Canadian jazz scene for many years, while their less-prominent teammates on the KMJO are no less accomplished.
MacDonald's music isn't always an easy read, for musicians or listeners, demanding of one and all their earnest concentration. On the other hand, much of it swings in the finest jazz tradition and there is a minimum of dissonance or digression. Disc 2's opener, "You See But You Don't Hear," embodies MacDonald's closest brush with discord, but it soon veers into a more temperate groove to undergird virile solos by alto Luis Deniz and soprano LaBarbera. What follows on Disc 2 (whose running time is only thirty-six minutes) are a pair of MacDonald's most enticing compositions, the breezy "Kirk's Blues" (solos by O'Kane, Perry, Promane, Swainson and trombonist Kelsley Grant) and the Latin-based charmer "Vanda Justina" (MacDonald, tenor; Virginia Frigault-MacDonald, shining on clarinet).
There are five songs on the more generous (fifty-six-minute) Disc 1, opening with the serpentine "Labyrinth" and continuing through "Common Ground," "Symmetry," "The Power of Four" and "Shadows," which closes the disc on a restful note with congenial solos by MacDonald and pianist Nancy Walker. "Four" is the session's unabashed flag-waver, a counterpoint to the more laid-back "Common Ground" and "Symmetry," which precede it. In addition to the soloists already named, there are sharp statements along the way by trumpeters Sullivan, Turcotte and Rob Smith, guitarist Lofsky, baritone White, trombonist Kay and drummer Barry Bromberg (who anchors the ensemble's irrepressible rhythm section).
MacDonald's compositions are first-rate, Sullivan's charts the same, and Common Ground is another winner for the admirable KMJO.
Disc 1 Labyrinth; Common Ground; Symmetry; The Power of Four; Shadows. Disc 2 You See But You Don’t Hear; Kirk’s Blues; Vanda Justina.
Kirk MacDonald: leader, tenor sax; Jason Logue: trumpet, flugelhorn; Brian O’Kane: trumpet, flugelhorn; Rob Smith: trumpet, flugelhorn; Kevin Turcotte: trumpet, flugelhorn; Joe Sullivan: trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger; P.J. Perry: alto sax, flute; Luis Deniz: alto sax; Pat LaBarbera: tenor, soprano sax, flute, alto flute; Perry White: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Virginia Frigault-MacDonald: clarinet (Symmetry, Shadows, Vanda Justina); Alastair Kay: trombone; Terry Promane: trombone; Kelsley Grant: trombone; Peter Hysen: bass trombone, tuba; Lorne Lofsky: guitar; Nancy Walker: piano; Neil Swainson: bass; Barry Romberg: drums.
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