Thursday, March 15, 2007

Doug MacDonald: Gentle Rain

Sea Breeze Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.15.07
Buy CD: Gentle Rain

Doug MacDonald is not new to the world of jazz. 

Born in Philadelphia and raised in Honolulu, he moved to the West Coast in 1982 and became a fixture, with periodic forays to New York and Las Vegas. He has played in groups of every size, from trios to big bands. 

He has been a sideman with dozens of organizations (George Shearing, Buddy Rich, Bill Holman and the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, to name a few); many famous vocalists; and some of the best guitarists in jazz (Joe Pass and Herb Ellis). MacDonald has been referred to as a "bop" guitarist, but his style really is more laid-back, mellow and swinging. 

The basic group performing on this release is a quartet: guitar, bass, piano and drums. Two different pianists were used: Ross Tompkins and Marty Harris. 

Five tracks feature a trio — guitar, piano and drums — and MacDonald plays solo guitar on "Gentle Rain." 

This is one of the best releases in the "casual enjoyment" genre I've heard in a long time. Eight tunes are familiar jazz standards that my generation grew up with, from "Once In A While" and "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" to "Picnic" and "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You." The ballads are wonderful for close dancing, and the arrangement of "Picnic" is particularly moving. 

Even the more up-tempo tracks — like "Idaho" — are danceable. The arrangements are excellent, as are the ensemble and solo work. 

And everything swings, thanks to the quality of the rhythm section — Harvey Newmark on bass, Jack LeComte on drums — that perfectly complements either pianist and MacDonald's guitar. 

You won't grow tired of this album.

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