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Urban Sprawl is a bright, infectious exercise in jazz-funk from a quintet of promising Berklee-ites. The Mike MacAllister Group takes fusion in bold new directions with a hot, funk-simmered sound and the surprisingly fun inclusion of marimba.
All the compositions were written by MacAllister, who shows as much potential as a writer as he does on guitar. "A Little Shorter" and "Stevie Wonderland" do bear a charming resemblance to the music of their honorees much credit goes to saxman Gerad O'Shea, who roams freely between the territories of Wayne Shorter and David Sanborn while the other tunes are hardly derivative. Inspired by prior art, yes, but never to the point of milking a dead horse. Tracks like "The Protest" are danceable with a heavy groove that gives MacAllister a chance to really spread his wings. Elsewhere Martha Cipolla's marimba provides a warm, woody vibe that somehow fits perfectly into tracks like the unusually attractive "Africa Minor". Bassist Jamie Bishop and drummer Jordan Perlson are the ideal sort of rhythm team for a group like this, deep in the pocket yet flexible enough to bend with MacAllister's flow. Bishop in particular is an iron-clad asset, burbling infectiously on "The Skool" and continuing his excellent vibes throughout the disc.
While it's always dangerous to suggest that a particular artist or group holds the key to future success, MacAllister and company have undeniably bright futures ahead of them if they continue down their present path. These days it's comparatively rare to find a young fusion-oriented ensemble operating at such a level of artistic excellence. Urban Sprawl is highly recommended and likely to reveal shining new treasures within itself upon repeat listenings. Simply outstanding.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.