June 2006

John MacLeod Big Band
at the Toronto Jazz Festival
June 28, 2006Main StageToronto
The Player's Song
by David Fujino with photo by Roger Humbert

Offhand, they sounded like Count Basie.

Like Basie, this big band entered swinging, with a long-limbed blues feeling running throughout a lot of the tunes. Modern jump tunes.

And when the trumpets and saxophones played a series of high rising melodies, the trombones and French horns answered, and the fine rhythm section of piano (Brian Dickinson), bass (Jim Vivian), electric guitar (Joey Goldsmith), and drums (Ted Warren) supported and urged everything along.

So it was a big band playing in a mostly swing-to-modern classic style.

But MacLeod's charts also revealed a brass player's love of a singing line, as in "Did You Call Her Today?" where his use of French horns recalled the clear sounds of European brass music and fluegelhornist Mike Malone contributed a sympathetic and reflective solo.

In the composition, "February Rot" — basically a 3-note vamp of bass/guitar/cymbal — we followed soprano saxophonist John Johnson as he triumphantly navigated its throb and swells and calling voices. This proved to be one of the deeper compositions.

Stocked with some of Toronto's finest, and led by composer-arranger-trumpeter John MacLeod, this was a true player's band, but for all its size (20 pieces?) and power, it still failed to engage me.

John MacLeod

For one thing, there was a (felt) stylistic disconnect between MacLeod's plunger muted solos and the whole mood of those compositions made up of clear singing melody lines.

And there were all-too-familar echoes of other players in Mike Murley's "Sometimes Things Happen That Way" as interpreted on tenor by Perry White in a solo of gruff overtones.

But, that's just my opinion.

Judging by the hands patting time on tables, and the many nodding heads, the John MacLeod Big Band was getting through, loud and clear.

We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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