Marc McDonald is a solid mainstream player. He has a good sound, clean articulation and dead-on intonation. His solos are strong and confident and so are those of his band mates on this, his first release as a leader after many years as a sideman. But eight of the 11 tunes are McDonald originals, and I find myself in disagreement with several other reviewers who consider his composing a strength.
Although a couple of the tunes do rise above the crowd, most lack a distinctive, grabbing hook, and as phrases go through changes, they rarely surprise. I found myself impatient to get out of the opening theme statements and into the solos. These make the outing worthwhile. McDonald, Jim Ridl and Steve Cardenas have most of the solo time. They can all swing, and they all have ears, chops and a gift for lyrical phrasing.
"Fade to Gold" is the best of the originals, partly because of the swaying Latin beat Karl Spicer and Gene Lewin push along under the solos. It's one of the five tracks that adds guitar to the mix. The guitar, piano and alto solos are a perfect fit for the lazy, lilting mood. Unexpectedly, and to good effect, a similar but faster beat propels the old standard "Blue Skies," an album highlight. The rhythmic support is outstanding here and throughout the release nice plump bass lines and the right amount of urging and accent from the drums.
"This Heart of Mine" is another standard, though not as well known. It caught McDonald's attention when he saw Fred Astaire sing it in the movie Ziegfield Follies. It's an upbeat, breezy tune, played in a style worthy of Astaire's matchless sophistication.
The melancholy "In Exile" is the strongest of McDonald's ballades. There's a heartfelt poignancy in the tune and in his solo.
Though I hope this fine alto player has a heavier dose of other composers in his next release, I also hope, as the album title suggests, that there is more to come and that you'll give this one a listen.