For the past 15 years, he has toured and recorded with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole. This group's latest album, "Típico" (MIEL Music), is its first in a decade that just features the quartet. The music is great to get lost in. The fiery "Academia" opens the album and illustrates just how the band has gelled, the rhythm section beneath the leader pushing, listening, prodding, responding to each other, propelling the song on the joy they bring to the performance. The title track bounces on the two-handed piano figure that not only introduces the piece but shows up throughout - listen to the seamless tempo changes, how Cole's cymbal work echoes Zenón's flights of fancy, and Glawischnig not only keeps the pulse but builds the foundation for the band to build off of.
"Típico" is a splendid recording and reminds us of how great music can be created when ensembles are familiar with each other and love to challenge themselves to keep growing, keep moving forward. Kudos to Miguel Zenón and his Quartet for creating such delightful music.
For more information, go to miguelzenon.com.
Watch and listen to a piece from the album:
The new album, two CDs and 90 minutes long, has a "swing" feel from the get-go, with allusions to the big band recordings of John Coltrane and Thad Jones, at times even Duke Ellington and Count Basie. The title track at 8:33 is the shortest cut on the album, meaning each musician gets time to develop his or her solo. But even on the shorter tracks, the arrangements still give the players enough time to really dig in.
There are also pieces that take their time to get going, plenty of time for the melody to be played fully and the various sections to harmonize. The leader's daughter, Virginia Frigault-MacDonald (20 years old at the time of this June 2015 recording), creates a lovely clarinet spotlight on "Vanda Justina" (listen to the flurry of sounds from the brass as her solo hits its stride); she yields the floor to her father who paints a lovely tenor saxophone portrait over the second half of the 12-minute track. One hear the Thad Jones influence in the melody and arrangement of "You See But..." as well as how the brass and reed sections frame the solos of Luis Deniz (alto sax) and Pat LaBarbera (soprano sax). Listen for the light sound of the flutes (supported by the low notes of Peter Hysen's tuba) carrying the melody of "Shadows" right before Ms. Walker's delightful solo. Her rhythmic inventions are matched by Romberg's playful drumming.
What I like most about "Common Ground" is how each song takes on its own personality after you listen three or four times. There is nothing generic about this music. It's born out of the joy of playing, out of the love of creating as a team, of an ensemble utilizing the musical visions of a fine composer and an intelligent arranger. The music of the Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra should resonate with fans of big band jazz or, for that matter, anyone who likes music.
For more information, go to kirkmacdonald.com.
Kirk MacDonald, P.J. Perry, Luis Deniz, Pat LaBarbera, Perry White - saxophones, flutes, clarinets
Virginia Frigault-MacDonald - clarinet on three tracks
Jason Logue, Brian O'Kane, Rob Smith, Kevin Turcotte, Joe Sullivan - trumpet, flugelhorn
Alastair Kay, Terry Promane, Kelsley Grant - trombone
Peter Hysen - bass trombone, tuba
Lorne Lofsky - guitar
Nancy Walker - piano
Neil Swainson - bass
Barry Romberg - drums
Here's a good taste of KMJO:
I've been listening to guitarist Ross Hammond's music, both electric and acoustic, since 2014's "Humanity Suite." His electric excursions are often loud, filled with sonic explosions but also brilliant interactions and challenging directions for both musicians and listeners.
Yet, it's his fascinating acoustic work that really captures my imagination. 2015's solo "Flight" remains one of my favorite albums of the last five years; the different textures and locations make the program sound alive. His 2016 releases, duo albums with tabla master Sameer Gupta and multi-reed genius Vinny Golia, featured improvisations shaped out of common musical ideas and shared languages.
Perhaps it's the frazzled emotional damage caused by the changes one feels in daily life these days as much as the heartfelt music Ross Hammond has created that makes "Follow Your Heart" so powerful. A single voice (in the form of a guitar) echoing through a church is a powerful salve, a form of salvation in hard times. This music, like the blues and folk sounds that inspired it, is human music. Even without words to guide us, these guitar sounds often feel like the "gospel truth."
For more information, go to www.rosshammond.com.
Here's a taste of this fine recording: