Earl MacDonald and The Creative Opportunity Workshop – Mirror Of The Mind – Death Defying Records DD0009, 51:49 ***:
(Earl MacDonald – piano, compositions, arrangements; Kris Allen – soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones; Christopher Hoffman – cello; Rogerio Boccato – percussion)
Saint Jerome was an early Christian priest who, in addition to translating the Bible into Latin, offered the following quotation: “the face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart”. It hard to imagine that Earl MacDonald and his cohorts had such profundity in mind when they were recording Mirror Of The Mind, but the obtuseness of the music would fall in line with the quotation offered by Saint Jerome.
Earl MacDonald was originally from Winnipeg Canada, studied at McGill University in Montreal, then Rutgers University and now is Associate Professor and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut. Prior to this academic appointment, Earl was, among other things, the musical director, pianist, and arranger for Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau from 1998 to 2000, so he has solid jazz credentials. Forsaking the usual instrumentation for this project, MacDonald has put together a band with an unusual front line of piano, cello and reeds, and they tackle a song cycle that with the exception of two tunes all are compositions of MacDonald. This latter talent has already won him some recognition as his tune “Wanton Spirit” was the title track of Kenny Barron’s 1994 Grammy nominated CD.
The title track “Mirror Of The Mind” begins this musical foray and it becomes abundantly clear from the first notes, that MacDonald cannot be put into any melodic box. The music is fluid with an introspective approach touching on a palette of tone and color. Seguing into “A Thousand Memories” MacDonald leads off with some strong right-hand lines with Hoffman’s cello playing off this, and Allen filling in the space on tenor. One of the cover tunes is Lennon/McCartney piece “Blackbird” with both cellist Hoffman and Kris Allen on soprano giving voice to the melody after which pianist MacDonald picks up the thread to then re-engage both Hoffman and Allen. The other cover piece is “I Never Told You” which was written by Arthur Hamilton and Johnny Mandel. This is a lovely ballad which flows out of a cello opening from Hoffman and provides the texture for MacDonald to take a sensitive turn on piano.
In this unstructured environment in which the group operates, whereby the foundation of MacDonald’s compositions stems from a variety of sources including classical, pop and avant-guard jazz forms, track titles provide no guide and sometime appear to have an “inside-baseball” connotation. For example, the slight offering entitled “Bidwell Cronies” has a rag-time inspiration, while “Disillusionment” offers an interesting rhythmic texture from percussionist Rogerio Boccato with the alto of Kris Allen taking the solo spotlight. The genesis of “Miles Apart” is murky, and whether it is meant to convey distance, or an allusion to Miles Davis, no amount of listening will sort out.
In this musical genre where self-identification may be a perilous approach, one is reminded of the Lewis Carroll classic book Alice In Wonderland and to bowdlerize one of the chapter titles “never take advice from a caterpillar”.
TrackList: Mirror Of The Mind; A Thousand Memories; Beneath; Blackbird; Bidwell Cronies; Disillusionment; Miles Apart; It Was Whispered; A Priori Perception; Where Thinking Leaves Off; I Never Told You; Bottom Feeders