Kirk MacDonald has maintained his integrity as one of Canada’s leading saxophonists for over 25 years. As a composer and performer, Kirk has managed to turn out exceptional musical projects every few years that reflect his musical growth and direction.
Pat LaBarbera – 2009 (liner notes from “Songbook Vol. I)
Over the past decade, Toronto tenor saxophonist Kirk MacDonald has established a national identity. His throaty, fullbodied sound graces numerous recordings, and his performances across the country have made him a must see attraction. Coupled with superb compositional abilities, MacDonald’s complete musicianship gives him a creative edge.
Greg Sutherland – THE JAZZ REPORT
Finally MacDonald whose tone is the essence of tenor sax, packed to the gunwhales with harmonics and overtones, began to do that thing that he does – an endless stream of bop – like lines which he pours out, without repeating himself, as though he wasn’t simply playing licks, but tapping into a subterranean jet-stream of melodic invention.
Steve Pederson – CHRONICLE HERALD
Kirk MacDonald: Symmetry Following two splendid albums as leader of his own big band (Deep Shadows, Family Suite for Large Jazz Orchestra), Toronto-based saxophonist / educator Kirk MacDonald has returned to a small-group format for Symmetry, the thirteenth recording on which his name has been listed atop the marquee. In this case, however, any member of MacDonald’s quintet could have easily laid claim to the honor, as every one is an all-star in his own right, from the renowned trumpeter Tom Harrell, who shares the front line, to the exemplary rhythm section comprised of pianist Brian Dickinson, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Dennis Mackrel.
Granted, assembling five world-class musicians in a studio to record doesn’t always pay dividends. Here, however, the idea seems truly inspired, thanks in part to their easygoing rapport and in even larger measure to MacDonald’s admirable compositions and arrangements, which bring out the best his colleagues have to offer. In the liner notes, MacDonald writes that he was searching for “beauty as a result of balance or harmonious arrangement.” Mission accomplished, starting with the shapely title selection and continuing through the nimble finale, “Bop Zone.” MacDonald later amplifies the remark, pointing out the genesis and form of each arrangement, but that is best left for musicologists to read and assimilate. Suffice to say that MacDonald has readily achieved his purpose.
“Bop Zone” is especially well-suited to MacDonald whose robust, darting tenor solos bring to mind such bop-era (and later) flame-throwers as Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin, Teddy Edwards, George Coleman, Harold Land and Charlie Rouse, among others, not to mention such contemporaries as Lew Tabackin, Don Menza, Joe Lovano and Canada’s own Pat LaBarbera. As for Harrell, he is as always a model of tastefulness and consistency on trumpet or flugel, pouring years of invaluable discipline and experience into every persuasive solo. Dickinson and Swainson make the most of their moments in the sun (each is bright and perceptive whether out front or lending support), while Mackrel toils earnestly to help keep the rhythm sharp and steady. Even though no one is likely to end the day humming any of MacDonald’s themes, all are well-honed and consistently pleasing.
In sum, Symmetry more than lives up to its eurythmic name: a burnished and cohesive group endeavor whose whole is actually greater than its parts. Definitely worth checking out.
Track Listing: Symmetry; Eleven; Common Ground; Mackrel’s Groove; Shadows; Brazil Like; Labyrinth; Greenwich Time; Contemplation; Bop Zone. Personnel: Kirk MacDonald: leader, composer, arranger, tenor saxophone; Tom Harrell: trumpet, flugelhorn; Brian Dickinson: piano; Neil Swainson: bass; Dennis Mackrel: drums. Record Label: Addo Records
SONGBOOK VOL. I
I can’t seem to pull anything out of my mailbox these days thats anything less than brilliant! Kudos first to Steve Bellamy and his new label Addo Jazz Recordings! They have three new releases out; Kirk MacDonald: Songbook Vol. 1, Fieldtrip: No Destination and Ted Quinlan: Streetscape. All of them are wonderful. The best thing about Kirk’s new CD other than the great playing is the fact that its called Volume 1. This would indicate that there are going to be further volumes which would be welcomed by this jazz fan! Pat Labarbera stages it perfectly in his liner notes; MacDonald needs to be heard on the world stage, I hope this CD will find its way to those who book festivals & tours & will give Canadian musicians of this stature a chance to perform and share their music in places other than their homeland. This quartet of musicians burns from the get go!
Cory Weeds – IN THE EARS (view full article here)
Two reasons to congratulate Kirk MacDonald (including a CD review)
1) Yesterday, the Canada Council for the Arts announced that the Toronto saxophonist has received a 2009 Victor Martin Lynch-Staunton Award. MacDonald, who turns 50 this year, and six other Canadian artists each received the annual award, which is worth $15,000, to recognize their achievements at mid-career. MacDonald was the recipient in the category of music. More details are here.
2) MacDonald recently released a fine new quartet CD, Songbook Vol.1, on the new Toronto-based Addo label, which highlights his considerable skills as a composer. Of course, he’s been recognized as a robust, substantial player with a flair for long lines filled with harmonic implications for the longest time.
I think of Songbook Vol. 1 as containing two kinds of pieces. Three of the tunes are more jazzy than they are lyrical. One is Manhattan Getaway (which alternates harmonically tricky 7/4 and 4/4 sections in its form, not that MacDonald and his bandmates are perturbed). Moulage is a hearty composition with much to latch on to, which ultimately is So What when it’s solo time. On this track, pianist David Virelles uncorks a distinctive solo and when the tune vamps out, he and MacDonald happily bounce ideas off each other. Similarly, By Invitation Only is a winning composition that reveals its inspiration — the jazz standard Invitation — when the improvised solos begin. Before the tune concludes, there’s some creative thrashing from drummer Barry Romberg.
The four other tunes accentuate MacDonald’s lyrical side.The opener, New Piece, is an eminently singable song set to a bossa groove. Its extended coda, featuring MacDonald coursing through a new and appealing set of chords is a nice exercise in delayed gratification. Over its seven minutes, Calendula, transforms from a pretty waltz brought in by Virelles into a torrid joust for him and MacDonald. Fleeting features a surging groove and MacDonald playing both tenor and soprano saxophones. Goodbye Glenn, which closes the disc, is a swirling rubato tribute to the late Toronto saxophonist Glenn McDonald.
Throughout, Virelles, Romberg and bassist Neil Swainson support and interact with MacDonald with all the energy, sophistication and immediacy that he deserves — which is really saying something.
Peter Hum – OTTAWA CITIZEN (view full article here)
Saxophone star Kirk MacDonald opens Addo’s account with Songbook Vol.1 (Addo Jazz Recordings AJR001) with seven of his own tunes and quality sidemen in pianist David Virelles, bass Neil Swainson and volatile drummer Barry Romberg. This adventurous music offers tuneful momentum, rhythmic flair and opportunities for bold contributions from bandsmen backing the leader’s warm, expressive and appealing sound Virelles and Romberg are never still while Swainson’s lush-toned bass anchors proceedings. The opening, expansive New Piece features flowing ideas, and you understand how Kirk has embraced composition as well as stellar performance. There’s winsome balladry on Calendula, passion lamenting late saxist Glenn McDonald, plus fiercely restless work on By Invitation Only (no prizes for knowing the inspiration).
Known for his fiery tone and flair for burning tempi, Juno award winner Kirk MacDonald is one of Canada’s pre-eminent jazz saxophonists. Since the release of his first album nearly twenty years ago, MacDonald has gradually gravitated towards the strength of his own original compositions. Family Suite (Romhog Records 116), MacDonald’s sixth album as leader, is a personal affair. The poignant opening and closing theme, Dark Autumn, refers to the fall of 2002, an arduous time in which MacDonald lost his mother while still mourning the deaths of long-time collaborators Jerry Fuller and Joe Bendzsa. Each movement in the suite is meaningfully titled and dedicated. One of the liveliest, Four Shades of Light, features an electrifying tete-a-tete between the leader and Barry Romberg on drums, as well as Romberg trading fours with the exquisite Brian Dickinson on piano. Along with bassist Jim Vivian, the sensitive rhythm section is as good as it gets. Musically multifaceted as always, MacDonald delivers a highly rewarding, emotionally raw performance on this unquestionably cathartic recording.
Family Suite is Kirk MacDonald’s sixth recording as a band leader, and sees him stepping out to front the multipart suite, which is a tribute to family members and close musical friends, past and present. The CD is comprised of an eight track modern jazz suite, in eleven parts, all composed by MacDonald, and featuring Brian Dickinson on piano, Jim Vivian on bass and the omnipresent Barry Romberg on drums.
Mr. MacDonald started to play saxophone at aged ten, and has went on to work with a sturdy list of leading jazz musicians including Claude Ranger, Dave Young, Sam Noto, Sonny Greenwich, Kenny Wheeler, Eddie Henderson, Harold Mabern, Walter Bishop Jr., Lorne Lofsky, Bob Mover, Pat LaBarbera, Phil Woods, John Taylor, and Ron McClure. All in all, he has played on over 25 jazz recordings as well as recording over 30 of his own compositions on CD.
The highlight is the ten minute The Prod / Sister Kim, Movements II and II which displays an astonishing sensitivity and musical empathy between the combo members. Elsewhere, Four Shades of Light – Movement V, absolutely sparkles, bouncing off a fabulous piano run from Brian Dickinson.
An engaging, invigorating and thoughtful album, this one comes highly recommended.
PURE AND SIMPLE
Whenever Kirk MacDonald heads up a session you can be sure you’re in for a treat. Pure and Simple is just that, four top flight musicians having a great blow in the true jazz tradition. The cohesion amongst these players is remarkable as they weave in and out of ideas propelling each tune to thoroughly reveal itself. MacDonald brings his unique and authoritative sound as well as four of his own compositions to this session. His lines are a constant flow of ideas probing the limits of an idea yet always thoroughly grounded. The rich tapestry of colour and texture always grabs your attention. Five By Five begins with an extended sax piano duet where MacDonald’s plaintive searching sound plays against John Taylor’s ever responsive piano. Taylor is one of those players whose skill at support is seamless only to burst forth with sparkle, clarity and a sureness that disarms. The structure and openness of his improvisation are beautifully conceived and executed.
Neil Swainson on bass has always brought lyricism and kindness to a session and that touch is evident here, where along with one of his own tunes, Scene In Passing, we get to sample his distinctive sense of warmth carried forward by the quartet. Along with the joyful and incisive textures of Terry Clarke’s drums, this group is really held together by an uncanny sense of inner momentum. Each of these finely skilled players is given opportunity to stretch yet they never stop beyond the intent of the session. MacDonald has managed to put together seven well-balanced tunes, displaying his compositional and arranging skills but most of all his selection of a group of players who exhibit a commonality and shared sympathy that turns music into magic.
Roger Martindill PLANET JAZZ MAGAZINE
Tenor saxophonist Kirk MacDonald may have recorded his finest session yet. The music was conceived with all of the players in mind and that may explain the ease at which pianist John Taylor, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Terry Clarke are able to transverse the often complex compositional territory. As always, MacDonald’s tone is clear and his solos are very focused. Another excellent outing.
THE JAZZ REPORT MAGAZINE
This is a CD that bears repeated listening with satisfaction attending every hearing. While the music is often dense and detailed, there is a justness in the proportions, a balance among the solos, and a seamlessness in the ensemble that only comes when first-rate players run full-out on intuition guided by superb aural perception.
Steve Pederson CHRONICLE HERALD
From the first notes of the rugged On The Sierra Nevada the session is hard-bop heaven…All the soloists animate the charts, turning up the improv heat as guitarist Lorne Lofsky, bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Jerry Fuller generate the glowing warmth of an open fire.
Geoff ChapmanTHE TORONTO STAR
THE ATLANTIC SESSIONS
A powerful session recorded in Halifax by the Toronto based tenor is his best yet…MacDonald’s third outing as a leader pinpoints his fervour and fire, insistent search for new sounds and hard yet opulent tone.
Geoff Chapman – THE TORONTO STAR
…this is a strong, hard bop date that finds Kirk MacDonald (a player who deserves to be much better known) in prime form.
Scott Yanow – THE JAZZ REPORT
MacDonald sounds stronger and more beautiful than ever. His impressive musicality in both his playing and writing continues to inspire.
Campbell Ryga – THE JAZZ REPORT
Satisfying post-bop effort, again stylish and substantial.
Mark Miller – THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Tenor saxophonist Kirk MacDonald plays to the deep strengths of his instrument on The Revellers regarding tradition without becoming tradition’s slave.
Randall McIllroy – WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
It’s a measure of MacDonald’s inventiveness that he manages to find new things to say with warhorses like Embraceable You and Body and Soul.
Paul Wells – MONTREAL GAZETTE