Only last month we wrote about guitarist Doug MacDonald’s trio album View of the City but the prolific and rather restless MacDonald returns with a self-released quartet disc featuring some fine players. Like the title implies Organisms is an organ project, MacDonald’s third, as a leader, composer, and arranger. Interestingly, these sessions were recorded only this past December on the West coast where MacDonald now resides. MacDonald is a native of Philadelphia who has logged time in NYC, Las Vegas, and currently Los Angeles, while playing globally in various configurations. He has a trio, quartet and a 13-piece ensemble, The Jazz Coalition. MacDonald describes his playing as rooted in a style reminiscent of guitar greats like Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis, and others.
MacDonald may call this an organ project but it’s a terrific guitar album. His playing is lively and sparkling throughout in the company of three top notch musicians. Organist Carey Frank has performed regularly with the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, Eric Marienthal, Jane Monheit and many others, including groups of his own. Drummer Ben Scholz has been a part of groups led by the late Roy Hargrove, Esperenza Spalding, Buddy Guy, Bill Watrous, and Aaron Neville. Bob Sheppard, who plays every reed instrument, sticks exclusively to tenor sax for this recording. Sheppard is a prime go-to session sideman, having played with Chick Corea, Freddie Hubbard, Michael and Randy Brecker, Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell, to name just a few.
There are ten tunes, seven of which are standards together with three MacDonald originals. This is a straight-ahead spirited, set with adventurous solos from each player. MacDonald’s guitar introduces the melody for the standard “It’s You or No One” as Frank’s organ and subtle drumming from Scholz support his rapid fire lines, before yielding to Sheppard’s energetic solo midway through, followed by Frank’s. As they close, there’s a dialogue between each soloist and Scholz. That’s followed by two originals; the infectious “Jazz for All Occasions” where all players again contribute democratically and “L&T” which morphs from a weird ensemble intro theme into a burner.
MacDonald goes solo on three selections, playing both single note lines and complex chords on the abbreviated medley “Nina Never Knew/Indian Summer,” “Poor Butterfly” and “Hortense.” Sheppard sits out on Sergio Mendes’ “Sometime Ago,” letting the conventional organ trio carry the tune. Harry “Sweets” Edison’s blues “Centerpiece” and the warm ballad from Land and Lerner “Too Late Now” and the closer, “On the Alamo” are strong vehicles for Sheppard.
This is pure mainstream jazz, delivered impeccably by top shelf talent. MacDonald is one of today’s best straight-ahead guitarists with little left to prove. Yet, he’s restless. Maybe we’ll get a big band offering next.
- Jim Hynes