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Turn by Doug MacDonald

Turn harkens back to a period when swing was cool and sophisticated. Blend that with breezy tempos and sun-soaked notes and you have Doug MacDonald’s latest outing.

Not your run of the mill big band, this 13 piece band includes a quintet of woodwinds that allows for a lighter and supple sound to the band. It has more possibilities in colors and shadings than your typical bottom brass-heavy four-on-the-floor pulsating beats coming from popular big bands of yore.

Guitarist, MacDonald uses this band as a vehicle to swing as he does on opener "Crystal Room Blues" and "920 Special," two light rompers that never swing hard but dances on a sprightly tempo. MacDonald’s soluble lines blend nicely within the parameters of the music which is both warm and inviting. The woodwinds and brass are hardly relegated to background support, but rather, weave in and out of the rhythm.

MacDonald gives nice treatment to Zoot Sims’ and Gerry Mulligan’s, "The Red Door." Generously, he allows other horns and woodwinds to step up and swing. Each individual takes stage and plays with fluidity and confidence. MacDonald lays out on this one. On "Ghost Of A Chance," all others lay out and MacDonald plays this classic ballad with sensitivity and ballast.

The yin to his yang, pianist and arranger, Jimmie Dykes puts his indelible stamp and signature to four tracks. Dykes is more intuitive and uses the woodwinds to create a soft and palatable framework that is atmospheric. The arrangements can be a little fussy, but it all comes together nicely as it does on "La Femme" and "La Reve," both of which have an impressionistic and evidently, as written in the liners, classical influences of Ravel. Particularly moving is his take on Ellington classic, "I Got It Bad," easily a highlight of the album. It begins solemnly with bassoons but warms up with the clarinets exuding just enough pathos and blues that would do the Duke proud.

MacDonald also tackles another Ellington classic, but less well known "What Am I here For?" After a long solo by MacDonald, tuba player, Les Benedict blows with a spirited chorus from this underrepresented horn. On Sammy Kahn’s "It’s You Or No One" and his very own "Turn," MacDonald gets a little more adventurous in his arrangements with clever interplay between players.

Overall, Turn is an album with a comfortable mix of swing, individual solos, arrangements and ensemble playing. Dykes shows his unique arranging talents and abilities in creating music that is light, supple and soothing. MacDonald, the leader in this date, is neither particularly flashy nor innovative. Rather, he is a player with confident, relaxed and always tasteful strokes who does not hurdle an endless barrage of notes at you. MacDonald simply plays within the music proving that, sometimes, less is more, more or less.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Doug MacDonald
  • CD Title: Turn
  • Genre: Big Band / Swing
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Sea Breeze Records
  • Rating: Three Stars
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