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March 25, 2014 / robinswood

New Music from Earl MacDonald

mirror of the mindI first heard of the pianist and jazz educator Earl MacDonald while I was doing the research for my book, when a mutual acquaintance said I should contact him and have a bit of a conversation around what I was proposing. It ended up being a really good thing to do, as not only did that conversation with Earl help me to clarify my project, he also recommended I pursue further conversations with both John Patitucci and Ike Sturm. Brilliant advice.

Then just this past weekend I was looking over the list of nominations for this year’s JUNO Awards (Canada’s version of the Grammy’s, for those of you reading this from south of the border), and discovered that Earl’s  “Mirror of the Mind” CD had been nominated for the Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year award. The album is actually credited to “Earl MacDonald and the Creative Opportunity Workshop,” a quartet which utilizes a cello in place of a more conventional bass.

I downloaded a copy through iTunes that same day, and gave it a first listening. I’ve since managed to make time for just one more focused listening, but I’d have to say that what I’m hearing is a real delight. The album includes 10 MacDonald originals, nicely complimented by covers of Johnny Mandel’s “I Never Told You” and the Beatles’ pop tune “Blackbird.” Opting to go with cello over the more muscular sound of an upright bass works really well on this record… and really, is there any other instrument that can evoke emotion in the way that a well-played cello can?

Some of the tunes are highly accessible – I think that this arrangement of “Blackbird” might forever change how I hear the original – yet this is a quartet unafraid of stretching out and pushing toward the edges. A piece such as “Where Thinking Leaves Off”, for instance, provides plenty of experimental edge to keep a serious Coltrane fan fully engaged.

In short, highly recommended. And Earl, thanks for that great conversation back in 2010; you have no idea how helpful that was!

You can find more about Earl MacDonald and his music by clicking here.

 

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