The Motor City Jazz Octet numbers in its ranks thirty or more of the Detroit metropolitan area's most accomplished musicians, eight of whom actually perform together at any given moment. Because of that, and some other quirks, the octet's debut album, Sanctuary, is in some respects a study in confusion. A press release accompanying the album, which was recorded in May 2013, names three guest artistsorganist Jimmy Smith, guitarist George Benson, tenor saxophonist Rick Margitzanone of whom appears on the album's personnel list. Margitza, however, is designated as the arranger of "Embraceable You" and Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke," and unless the MCJO's tenor, Steve Wood, is an alter ego, that sure sounds like Margitza soloing on those numbers as well as on "Darn That Dream"and that may well be Benson doing the same on "When I Fall in Love" (although the group lists its guitarist, Steve Carryer, as present and accounted for on every number). Smith, of course, could not have been present at the recording session, as he passed away in 2005. On the other hand, the octet has a trumpeter also named Jimmy Smith, and he may be the "guest" referred to in the press release, even though he is named as a member of the group.
Be that as it may, and no matter who is playing or soloing, the octet itself is sharp and well-grounded on every number, which, besides those already named, include John Lennon / Paul McCartney's "Come Together" and the standard "All or Nothing at All," both arranged by Fred Stride. Soloists aren't named, which leads to the uncertainty about who is or is not out front on a given number. Not that it really matters, as every solo is strong and engaging. The rhythm section, anchored by the octet's nominal leader, drummer Joe Syrian, does its part to enliven the party, and Syrian is especially impressive thumping the tom toms on a Latin-flavored version of "All or Nothing at All."
Although the MCJO asserts that it specializes in "all forms of American jazz," Sanctuary is by and large late-model and straight-ahead with no unseemly detours. Be advised, however, that the album's playing time is only thirty-six minutes. If that isn't a concern, Sanctuary may be worth mulling over, if only to decide for yourself whether Margitza and / or Benson are indeed sitting in as guest artists.
Come Together; All or Nothing at All; Embraceable You; When I Fall in Love; Sir Duke; Darn That Dream.
Jimmy Smith: trumpet; Mark Berger: alto, baritone sax; Steve Wood: tenor sax, flute; Mike Rumbell: trombone; Gary Schunk: keyboard; Steve Carryer: guitar; Don Lewandowski: bass; Andrew Lloyd: bass; Joe Syrian: drums.
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