Kirk MacDonald: Vista Obscura
2014: Addo Records
Kirk MacDonald on Tenor Saxophone
Harold Mabern on Piano
Neil Swainson on Bass
André White on Drums
Pat LaBarbera on Tenor Saxophone
Recorded by Kenny MacDonald, asst. by André St. Denis
Mixed and Mastered by Steve Bellamy
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 14, 2015
This CD is a collection of nine smooth tunes, some sultry, some syncopated. Kirk MacDonald has assembled an ensemble of five seasoned musicians, including Mr. MacDonald on tenor saxophone, Harold Mabern on piano, Neil Swainson on bass, André White on drums, and Pat LaBarbera (on three tracks) on tenor sax. Six tracks are original compositions, two are by John Coltrane, and one is by Mr. Mabern. Each composition exudes nuanced tonalities and generous solo riffs. The three tracks with duo tenor saxes are quite compelling, with the bass in unison as well as divergent tonal conversation.
#3 – There But for the Grace Of… – Composed by Harold Mabern. Pianist Harold Mabern has composed this lovely tune, and he introduces it with moody ambiance. Quickly, Kirk MacDonald seizes the theme and brings out its vitality and verve, before handing it back to Mr. Mabern. Neil Swainson on bass and André White on drums provide solid support, as Mr. Mabern picks up the tempo with a jiving, jumping tune, with spinning trills and sassy, edgy chords. Drums and bass expand, but never overwhelm the lead piano. This is definitely a tune that deserves a live concert, with Mr. MacDonald taking his own rollicking riff, with brassy panache.
#4 – Calendula – Composed by Kirk MacDonald. Mr. MacDonald’s sax opens this track with billowy bluesy yearning. Magnifying the bluesy aura, Mr. Swainson is showcased in a deep, midnight-styled, bass solo. The advantage of a streamlined ensemble is that solos and duos abound. That was the case here, with a sax-piano duet on the heels of the bass interlude. The piano picks up the theme, with brushes and drums in soft backdrop, before the sax plays the track out.
#6 – Naima – Composed by John Coltrane. This renowned tune, a ballad Coltrane had dedicated to his wife, has been reviewed on these pages in various interpretations. On this album, the track opens with both saxophonists, Mr. MacDonald and Pat LaBarbera, in an uncluttered duo for two minutes, before piano, bass, and drums provide elegant accompaniment. Coltrane’s mesmerizing tribute piece is lovingly revitalized by this masterful quintet. An extended, thematic sax solo draws the listener in, with magnetizing melancholy.
#9 – Mira Nights – Composed by Kirk MacDonald. Mr. MacDonald opens this track with a smooth melody, backed mainly by piano harmonies, before raising the bar with an edgy interlude. After Mr. Mabern twists the theme a bit on his keyboard, the sax returns with a dusk-imbued finale, evocative of late summer moonlight. I recommend listening to this album with a glass of fine wine to relax into its subtle vibe.