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Raymond MacDonald: Man with Two Brains

Duncan Heining By

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For MacDonald, the most significant and personal influences—beyond those of the greats such as Monk or Coltrane—are those with musicians he has been able to play with and with whom he has been able to form some kind of musical bond. From Lol Coxhill, he gained the sense of freedom and liberation, that "anything was possible and you had permission to do anything musically." He describes playing, and talking, with Evan Parker—"an artist with such an amazing history, such an amazing technique but such a broad approach to the music" -as "almost an epiphanic moment" his career.

The third such influence has been Marilyn Crispell. By the time this article appears, MacDonald and Crispell will have finished a UK tour and, hopefully, will have a second CD in the can. Their first Parallel Moments (Babel 2014) was recorded at London's Vortex Jazz Club in 2010. The record's great strengths lie in both players' melodic gifts and ability to lend just the right emotional weight and drama to each improvisation. Some of their improvisations achieve an almost song-like structure at times. What emerges is more than a journey through sound but more a series of stories filled with different events and moods. It is more than empathy, more a melding of thoughts and emotions. As MacDonald notes,

"Again, I don't want to sound hyperbolic but she is one of the most important improvising piano players in the world. She really is quite spellbinding. You get the chance to play with somebody and you feel you are changed and that your perspective has been changed and your music has been taken to a new place as well. I feel really lucky that I've had the chance to work with people like that."

Notes on CDs:

Hung Drawn Quartet—Hey There You Hosers HDQ CD—This is a delightful sax quartet record full of warmth and humour. A crucial aspect of its success is the fact that these four musicians—MacDonald, Graeme Wilson (tenor), Allon Beauvoisin (baritone), Keith Edwards (alto)—are very fine rhythm players.

Nakatani/Fells/Nicholson/MacDonald/Davison—Aporias Creative Sources CD -Think Evan Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble meets early AMM Music. Exceptional playing fused with highly creative use of sampling and electronic processing. Note in particular the contribution of guitarist Neil Davidson and drummer Tatsuya Nakatini.

George Burt-Raymond MacDonald Quintet -Hotel Dilettante Textile Records—With special guests Lol Coxhill and Sushil K. Dade on bass and theremin. This is something else! A truly hip, psychedelic jazz record. At several points, it sounds like George Burt is channelling Jerry Garcia. A simply astonishing group record.

George Burt-Raymond MacDonald Sextet—Day For A Reason Leo Records—Perhaps the most 'Scottish' of the Burt/MacDonald group records. Beautiful folk melodies meet jazz meet free improvisation and the winner is music. Fine drumming from Alan Cosker and a gorgeously weighted performance from guest Keith Tippett.

MacDonald/Fujii/Davidson/Tamura/Bancroft -Cities Nu-Jazz—Amazing that music this coherent can result from a coming together of musicians from opposite sides of the globe meeting personally and musically for the first time.

Raymond MacDonald International Big Band -Buddy Textile Records—Simply great big band free improvisation by a stellar ensemble.

Raymond McDonald & Marilyn Crispell -Parallel Moments Babel—Crispell is one of the greatest improvising pianists. Just ask Anthony Braxton! Yet, MacDonald matches her perfectly here. Beautifully sensitive and elegant but filled with intriguing twists and turns.

Alister Spence/Raymond MacDonald -Stepping Between The Shadows Rufus Records—At times quite minimalistic in the mood and soundscape it creates, this is another exceptional meeting of minds and talents.
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