Pianist Earl MacDonald, Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut, is set to release his fifth album as a bandleader—Open Borders.
For this project, the two-time JUNO-award nominee assembled a lean and mean 10-piece band, capable of capturing the intimate subtleties of a jazz combo, or packing the walloping punch of a full big band. The album successfully blends “smart, economical writing with fabulous blowing.” (Marc Myers, JazzWax)
Described as “a major force in the world of jazz composition” (Dan Bilawsky
, All About Jazz), MacDonald presents a program of music nearly as diversified as the musicians playing it. The album includes lush ballads, light-hearted bebop, spicy salsa, swing, and hints of jazz-funk.
MacDonald’s musical vision is carried out by Kris Allen (alto saxophone), Wayne Escoffery
(tenor saxophone), Lauren Sevian
(baritone saxophone), Jeffrey Holmes (trumpet), Josh Evans (trumpet), Alex Gertner (French horn), Sara Jacovino (trombone), Henry Lugo (string bass), and Ben Bilello (drums). Vocalist Atla DeChamplain and percussionist Ricardo Monzon join the ensemble for one track respectively. In addition to providing all the arrangements, Earl MacDonald performs throughout on piano or Rhodes electric piano.
Although the album wasn’t initially planned for making a political statement, the band’s makeup led to questioning how and why such a diverse group of individuals could come together to collaborate on this recording project. It certainly wasn’t the result of a closed-border mindset or the complacency of those who came before. The twelve musicians represent different ages, races/ethnicities, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, marital status, incomes, educations, religious beliefs, geographic locations, and parental status. In an age where divisions are often highlighted more than commonalities, Earl MacDonald’s Open Borders
album illustrates the effectiveness and beauty that comes from bringing together, and openly collaborating with people of different backgrounds, life experiences, perspectives and skillsets.
Compositions like “Dolphy Dance” reveal the scope of MacDonald’s compositional imagination. His musical vision unfolded as he posed the question, “How would it have sounded if Eric Dolphy
had played within a New York City salsa band?” A colorfully orchestrated prologue, presented in triple meter, introduces the melodic material, before busting into a full-throttled, salsa groove. Throughout, both the melodic and harmonic material are taken left of center, in the spirit of Dolphy, while preserving danceable rhythms, punctuated by Ricardo Monzon’s congas and shekere. It is understandable that MacDonald has been hailed as “a magical, musical alchemist of hip hybrids” (Owen McNally, the Hartford Courant).
MacDonald carefully counterbalances his own compositions with well-crafted arrangements of songs familiar to jazz enthusiasts, including Jackie McLean
’s “Appointment In Ghana”, standards “Blame It On My Youth” and “East of the Sun, and a swinging rendition of “Hit the Road Jack,” which was commissioned by the Westchester Jazz Orchestra.
MacDonald, the former musical director for Maynard Ferguson
, has posted extensive album liner notes and recording session photos on the homepage of his website
. Among his essays are detailed descriptions of all the arranged pieces and their underlying inspirations, shared insight into the recording process and relationships with his bandmates, and a thoughtful explanation of the Open Borders
album title where he suggests society as a whole could learn from the artist mindset.Open Borders
is scheduled for release on Nov. 21st, 2017 and will be available through iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby
and MacDonald’s web site.