People who have an aversion to bugs (do you know any?) may hesitate to purchase (or even review) an album whose title epitomizes the very thing they abhor. But even though multi-instrumentalist Miles Donahue's new album does nod to that often-despised creature and even includes a song by that name, there is more to it than that; one might even say that Donahue removed the most of the "bugs" from the studio before he and his colleagues started recording.
One of the reasons that Donahue, who plays alto sax, trumpet and flugelhorn on The Bug, isn't more widely known is that he chose to raise a family in his native New England rather than seek his fame and fortune in a wider arena, although he did spend time in Europe almost two decades ago before resuming a career in education with performance as a sideline. As this album marks his debut for Whaling City Sound, Donahue helped assure its merit by assembling a blue-ribbon supporting cast that includes guitarist Mike Stern, pianist Tim Ray and drummer Ralph Peterson. Going one step further, Donahue asked one of his college classmates if he would be able to make the gig, and Jerry Bergonzi said yes, he would.
What remained was choosing the bill of fare, and the (debatable) decision was made to perform nine of Donahue's original compositions, ranging from ballads to waltzes, funk to fleet, opening with the Lee Konitz-slanted "Bill," one of two tributes to the late pianist Bill Evans (the other is "In Three," a bow to Evans' waltz "Very Early," which closes the session). "The Bug" is an edgy theme inspired, Donahue writes, by a visit to an emergency room after a bug actually flew into his ear. Donahue plays trumpet for the only time here, with other solos by Stern and drummer Larry Flynn who sits in for Peterson (as he does on "Hawthorne Hideaway" and the gritty "Swamp House").
As for Bergonzi, he plays tenor on the ballad "All Grown Up," Donahue's tender eulogy to "Clifford" (Brown) and the odd-tempo "Innocent Bystander," soprano on "In Three," the last two with Donahue on flugelhorn. Bergonzi is admirable, as is pianist Ray on his feature, "Leaving Home" (and elsewhere). While Donahue's talent and versatility must be applauded, and his teammates are first-rate, The Bug as a whole seldom displays the sort of bite that would cause anyone to recoil. Although quite respectable, it's a step or so removed from being special.
Bill; The Bug; All Grown Up; Hawthorne Hideaway; Leaving Home; Swamp House; Clifford; Innocent Bystander; In Three.
Miles Donahue: alto sax (1, 4, 6, 8), trumpet (2), flugelhorn (7,9); Jerry Bergonzi: tenor (3, 7, 8), soprano sax (9); Mike Stern: guitar (2, 4, 6); Tim Ray: piano; Tamir Shmerling: bass; Ralph Peterson: drums (1, 3, 7-9); Larry Finn: drums (2, 4, 6).
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