Solon McDade Paints Musical Murals

Murals Cover

MURALS / McDADE: He’s a Problem in the Locker Room. Buy the Tractor. Do Airplanes Scratch the Sky? Whatever Whatever. The Ballad of Sir William Ormerod. Off the Bed Rose. Blues for Sebastian. Ali’s Second Line. A Shorter Thing / Solon McDade, bs; Donny Kennedy, a-sax; Jeremiah McDade, t-sax; Paul Shrofel, pn; Rich Irwin, dm / private release, available at http://www.solonmcdade.com

Murals is the first release by bassist-composer Solon McDade’s little band, and it’s a good one. It’s not so much his basic tunes, which are your typical modern kinda-modal-kinda-atonal things, but the solos, the use of the instruments and the easy swing of the band, led by the smooth, gliding drumming of Rich Irwin. McDade also likes to use his two saxists in improvisational counterpoint, as in the opening track, with fascinating results. He also sets up, in this piece, himself on bass playing tonal notes while pianist Paul Shrofel goes out on a musical limb. It’s one of those quintets where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The band’s tightness obviously stems from their complete trust in each other as musicians and their ability to listen to each other. Think of it as a modernistic version of, say, the John Kirby Sextet, where everyone was on exactly the same wavelength, producing well-structured performances in which every cog in the musical wheel fed into the whole. This is even evident in the slow numbers, such as Buy the Tractor, which starts out with a bass into before Donny Kennedy and Jeremiah McDade (his brother?) feed off each other. Their sympathetic duo-improvisations put me in mind, a bit, of Zoot Sims and Al Cohn on those old late-1950s/early-‘60s records. And yet again, I was struck by the tastefulness of Irwin’s drumming. This is not a small thing. Too often, nowadays, I hear bands where the drummer is trying too hard to make an impression, throwing in superfluous backbeats and cymbal washes where they intrude on the musical progression. Irwin is one of those drummers, like Roy Haynes, who always seems to know exactly how much to play. Indeed, the more I listened to this disc, the more I was impressed by the solo work as a whole. It contributes to the compositions rather than flying out on a limb that doesn’t seem to be connected to the trunk of the tree.

Do Airplanes Scratch the Sky? begins in a slow, out-of-tempo manner, much like many Charles Mingus compositions before the saxes slither into the melody. Solon McDade’s bass solo is accompanied mostly by Shrofel’s piano, with Irwin delicately adding tasteful accents, and when the focus shifts to Kennedy on alto the piano and drums maintain their delicacy behind him (with McDade adding to the mix). When Jeremiah McDade enters on tenor, he is playing with a slightly hard tone reminiscent of Rollins or Coltrane, and indeed his note choices remind you at times of both saxists.

Whatever Whatever is an uptempo swinger of the old school, channeling the feel of ‘50s style bop. Here the two saxists lead off playing in harmony before taking turns soloing—as usual, Kennedy up first, followed by Shrofel on piano in a sort of Wynton Kelly mode. It ends on an unresolved chord. The Ballad of Sir William Ormerod follows a delicate tracery from Shrofel’s a cappella introduction through to the rest of the rhythm section, which sets up a jazz waltz. Here, too, the saxists play in harmony through an entire chorus, followed by Jeremiah on tenor. McDade’s bass solo on this one, two choruses, is one of his finest. Then the volume increases as the two saxists again play in opposition to each other, Jeremiah laying the groundwork for Kennedy’s imaginative flight above him.

Off the Bed Rose brings us uptempo again, this time in an old-fashioned swinger that could have been played by Woody Herman’s Second Herd band (the one with Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and the other “Four Brothers”), only reduced to Two Brothers and rhythm section (well, maybe the Woodchoppers, Herman’s small-band-within-a-band). The whole band is unbuttoned on this one, taking risks in their solos and again contributing to the whole—including Irwin, who finally gets a few nice breaks on the drums. Blues for Sebastian opens with a McDade bass solo, following which Shrofel and Irwin set up a nice relaxed, funky, middle-tempo groove for the band to play in. Jeremiah McDade plays a nice, wailing solo on tenor, after which his brother does some walking while Kennedy picks his way through the tune in a relatively sparse solo, weaving notes around the bass line. The altoist’s second chorus is busier but no less tasteful and interesting and McDade’s bass picks up on some of his ideas for his own solo turn. The two saxists play the quirky tune in unison for the final chorus.

Ali’s Second Line really jumps with a quasi-Professor Longhair sort of New Orleans-Caribbean beat. The saxists play the opening melody, followed by the solos, Shrofel coming up first. The saxes really jump on this one, too, playing highly syncopated figures around the lively rhythm. The album concludes with A Shorter Thing, a medium-slow ballad, led off by Shrofel with the rhythm section before McDade’s bass solo. The tempo then relaxes slightly for the saxes, playing alternating figures in chase-chorus fashion before teaming up in thirds. Jeremiah McDade gets his tenor solo, and a good one it is, followed by a fade-out ending with both saxists.

An excellent first release for this talented group that you should hear!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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