Sea Breeze is fine mainstream label that deserves recognition for putting out Echoes In The Night by the talented pianist Earl MacDonald and his new sextet. The music is nevertheless very ingratiating and delightful, if not startlingly original.
Currently the Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut, MacDonald has put together a group of talented, like-minded musicians who share the common goal of writing and playing music that is "in the tradition without slavishly imitating their idols. They play a mix of standards ("East of the Sun ) and originals, some with referents ("Owe Joe, which was written as a thank you to Joe Henderson), some composed for other groups ("Echoes in the Night, written by trombonist Steve Davis as a member of One For All).
This is a live performance, and it could very well be the set as it happened, instead of a splice job from multiple sets. In any case, the audience responds very strongly, both between solos and between tunes. "East of the Sun, which has always been one of my favorite tunes, is done very well; MacDonald gives credit for the inspiration of the reharmonization to Jerry Bergonzi's Standard Gonz, on which bassist Dave Santoro played.
Acknowledging the tradition, "Bad Dream was written to the changes of "You Stepped Out Of A Dream, and it sounds as if it could have been performed in 1960. That's not a bad thing, but it's a general symptom of the music, which will either attract or repel listeners. "Firm Grip, a six-bar blues, has melodic echoes of "Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat and features some exciting playing from alto saxophonist Dick Oatts. Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli's "Lou Ann is acknowledged in the notes to be closely related to the hard bop tradition, so your ears are not lying if you reach the same conclusion on your own. Oatts' "A Change Will Come is sort of a technical exercise in that a chord change happens every two bars, except the last two, which perhaps obscures whatever tune is there.
In the end, Echoes In The Night is quite enjoyable, if unobtrusive. If you subscribe to the principle that the best jazz should be somewhat rude, then you might find this disc bland. On the other hand, the music is so relaxed and attractive that it's hard not to appreciate what it has to offer.
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