Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dave McDonnell Group – The Dragon and the Griffin (New Atlantis, 2014) ****

By Chris Haines

On his website Dave McDonnell describes this group as his “post-jazz unit”.  For me Post-Bop springs more readily to mind although personally I’m not sure about that as a term to reflect the totality of the music on offer here, even though it is generally used as a bit of a catch-all label.  There are some pieces that are heavily influenced by the virtuosity of the Bebop style, but there are also other pieces that are structured around repeated ostinato patterns, more free-form playing and a few short pieces with a completely contrasting colour.

The group is Dave McDonnell on saxophones, Chris Welcome on guitar, Joshua Adams on bass and Frank Rosaly on drums.  For starters I like the sound of McDonnell’s playing.  He has a smooth pure tone that is clearly underpinned by a good technique, which he stays in control of throughout the album.  That is not to say there isn’t feeling or expression in his playing but the quality of his sound is a consistent and pleasant factor across all the pieces he plays on.  The ever efficient Chris Welcome’s playing is strong on this album, fulfilling supporting roles to McDonnell’s lead lines as well as some strong virtuosic soloing of his own, which is a delight to hear.  The rhythm section of Rosaly and Adams form a tight unit that provides good support to the melodic/harmonic gymnastics of sax and guitar.

Some of the highlights of The Dragon and the Griffin include ‘Perch’ a Bebop fuelled piece, ‘Geranium’ with it’s much freer developmental playing and the three short pieces ‘In a Clearing 1, 2 & 3’ which are spread out over the album and are realised by Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone and Tomeka Reid on cello.

The music on this album really swings and although not all of it would necessarily come under the Free Jazz banner it is well worth a listen as there is a lot on offer here to enjoy.

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