Guitarist Doug MacDonald had been gigging around the Palm Springs, CA, area with bassist Larry Holloway and drummer Tim Pleasant as the Coachella Valley Trio for three years when the three amigos entered a studio in 2019 to record their first album as a working group. The result is Mid Century Modern, a burnished and buoyant session in which the trio is enlarged on six of its eleven tracks by percussionist Big Black on djembe.
The music is a savvy blend of standards and originals, rather like one would hear during the trio's regular gig at AJ's on the Green in Cathedral City. While everyone lends himself to the task at hand, the impression is that no one is working up a sweat, as these are songs with which MacDonald and his mates are so familiar they could almost play them while snoozing. That's not to say that anything on the menu is less than sharp and engaging, only that the trio's superior musicianship and empathy makes every in and out, every twist and turn seem incredibly easywhich of course they are not.
The half-dozen standards are a well-traveled assortment, beginning with Harold Arlen / Johnny Mercer's "My Shining Hour" and continuing with "What's New," "Give Me the Simple Life," "Stranger in Paradise," I Hadn't Anyone Till You" and "The Way You Look Tonight." There's also one jazz standard, Dizzy Gillespie's effervescent "Woody 'n You." MacDonald wrote the others: "Lance or Lot," "Cat City Samba," "Tram Jam" and "Bossa Nueva," each one bright and charming albeit short of memorable. While MacDonald is the primary soloist throughout, Holloway and Pleasant have their moments as well, and neither one is less than proficient. Meanwhile, Big Black lends rhythmic weight on his numbers but does no more than that.
This is for the most part toe-tapping fare, music to help one unwind and smile, performed by three (and sometimes four) musicians whose perception is deep and whose technique is beyond reproach. It's not hard to understand why they have a steady gig.
My Shining Hour; Lance or Lot; Cat City Samba; Tram Jam; What’s New; Give Me the Simple Life; Stranger in Paradise; I Hadn’t Anyone Till You; Woody ‘n You; Bossa Nueva; The Way You Look Tonight.
Doug MacDonald, guitar; Larry Holloway, bass; Tim Pleasant: drums; Big Black: djembe (3, 6-10).