"Echoes in the Night" is the debut release of this fine sextet assembled by Earl MacDonald, director of jazz studies at the University of Connecticut and former pianist, musical director and arranger for Maynard's Big Bop Nouveau Band. It was recorded live at U Conn in January 2004. The band includes some of the top players in the Northeast. MacDonald, who wanted an alto in the blend, was particularly pleased to have Dick Oatts come aboard. Oatts brought not only his inspired sound but a pair of compositions. "The Owe Joe" is a tribute to Joe Henderson, with eloquent solos by Oatts (reminds me of Paul Desmond), MacDonald and trombonist Steve Davis, and this arrangement mirrors Oatts' description of Henderson as subtle and understated. "A Change Will Come" is a challenging "Giant Steps" type of tune. "Modulation without panic," says Oatts. True. They're on that high wire but you just know they're too adept to fall off. Trombonist Davis wrote "Echoes of the Night." It's clear from his interpretation and that pulse from the rhythm section that it's a very active night that he has in mind. Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli's "Lou Ann" takes us straight down the hard bop road.
"East of the Sun," arranged by MacDonald, is the only standard. Melodic bookends are provided by Magnarelli and interesting things happen to time and harmony in between. You'll find MacDonald to be a gifted arranger in a variety of genres. "Jana" is a romantic ballad with a lyrical solo by Oatts, an opportunity for bassist Dave Santoro and seamless integration of soloists and ensemble. "Bad Dream," a bop exploration of "You Stepped Out of a Dream" allows Magnarelli to breathe fire and shows MacDonald to be a talented bop soloist. A 6-bar blues, Firm Grip, tells a very blue and emotional story. The set closes with "The Bidwell Cronies," an enjoyable Monkish eccentricity.
Best jazz group in the Hartford Advocate 2004 readers' poll. No wonder! Wish I lived closer.