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Curtis Macdonald: Community Immunity

Dan Bilawsky By

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"The Jazz Community" is a phrase that shows up in more than a few album reviews, but what does it really mean? Like-minded jazz musicians certainly gravitate toward one another, but they don't live in some massive, hippie-like commune where people play John Coltrane and Charlie Parker licks ad infinitum and bow down in front of Mao-like photos of Louis Armstrong, Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins. The idea of a jazz community is more about sharing like-minded philosophies, finding acceptance and fitting within a given framework—critically, socially and/or musically. But some artists shun such ideas and still find satisfaction in staying the unique course that they set for themselves. In fact, forward-thinking, one-of-a-kind musicians—like saxophonist David Binney—have created their own mass appeal and close-knit circles by avoiding connections through commonplace ideas and roaming into the jazz unknown. Newcomer Curtis Macdonald appears to be on a similar course.

Community Immunity—MacDonald's debut on trumpeter Dave Douglas' Greenleaf Music—highlights Macdonald's unique compositional voice and showcases a fearless artist who is willing to break free of the shackles of expectations. Macdonald doesn't pander to populist tastes, but he also understands that music is ultimately something to be experienced by others. While many of his originals are built on complex webs of rhythmic motion and high-order modernist ideals that might normally be scary, Macdonald uses brevity to balance the equation. His original compositions can be confounding or cathartic, but they're always succinct and feature stunning displays of creativity.

Cunning and malevolence are an important part of the package, but these ideas don't define Macdonald's work. The saxophonist mixes pungent musical brews ("Second Guessing") with peaceful musical moods ("Mosaic I"), demonstrating wide-ranging abilities as a composer, conceptualist and performer. While a long list of guests help to explore different ideas from track to track, it's the constant presence of singular voices like bassist Chris Tordini that help to create a high degree of consistency across the entire range of music on this album. Tordini's bass lines often darken the mood ("Childhood Sympathy") and help to lay the groundwork for Macdonald's music, but he also proves to be a compelling soloist ("Somnolence IV"). His rhythm partner, drummer Greg Ritchie, beautifully colors the understated numbers on the album and helps to push the envelope on the more aggressive performances ("The Living Well").

While Macdonald graciously shares space with his band mates and guests, it's his own unique voice that really defines his work. His saxophone can be a beacon of clarity ("Community Immunity") or a bird of prey ("Second Guessing"), depending on his mood, but his ideas are always intriguing. With Community Immunity, Curtis Macdonald establishes himself as one who stands apart from the rest but, with a such a unique musical statement, he just might be embraced by the jazz community at large...if such a thing exists.

Track Listing: Community Immunity; Childhood Sympathy; Figmentum II; Second Guessing; Mosaic I; The Living Well; Somnolence IV; Mosaic II; The Imagineer; My Deal.

Personnel: Curtis Macdonald: alto saxophone; Chris Tordini: bass; Greg Ritchie: drums; Jeremy Viner: tenor saxophone, clarinet (7); David Virelles: piano (1, 3, 7-10); Michal Vanoucek: piano (2, 4, 6); Travis Reuter: guitars (3); Becca Stevens: vocals (5); Andrea Tyniec: violin (5).

Title: Community Immunity | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Greenleaf Music

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