February 2007

Kirk MacDonald Trio
February 28, 2007 The Rex Toronto
Manhattan Getaway
by Paul J. Youngman with photo by Mike Colyer
For a couple of weeks I’ve been looking forward with eager anticipation to the prospect of seeing drumming legend Joe Labarbera with the Kirk MacDonald Trio. We found out late in the week that Mr. LaBarbera was not going to be available, attending to a death in his immediate family. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the LaBarbera family and we’re hoping that Joe Labarbera will honour us with a visit to Toronto as soon as possible.
On the plus side, a fellow New Yorker of Mr. LaBarbera, Dennis Mackrel filled in for Labarbera quite admirably. The last time I witnessed this finesse powerhouse of a drummer, probably goes back about ten years, at the famed Iridium in New York with the even more famous Hank Jones, I recall that the show featured jazz standards played in a slightly mellow fashion, quite different from what was witnessed this night.

The standard, “East Of The Sun” kicked off the show on time with a rousing introduction by Kirk MacDonald, the deep full warm sound of Mr. MacDonald’s saxophone was a pleasing respite from the nasty Toronto weather. MacDonald’s fingers were on fire, he played lightning fast runs, mixing in bold statements and adding portions of the main melody, from melodic groove to wild growl. I had the distinct impression a clinic was taking place, two Canadian jazz masters, MacDonald on saxophone and Neil Swainson on contra bass would delight the hometown crowd.

Close your eyes and listen while the two saxophones play — one playing melody while the other fills in with runs, or so it would seem, as notes of pleasing auditory delight flowed in rapid-fire intensity from the bell of MacDonald’s tenor sax.

Kirk MacDonald
Mr. Mackrel, in big band mode, pushed the trio with a forceful drive, with gut pounding kick drum on every beat least expected, bass drum accents à-la Kenny Clarke, a solid pulse with a burning cymbal sound care of a red-hot Bosphorous ride cymbal that sang ever so sweetly. Mackrel would utilize to brash effect a Chinese cymbal with rivets, a wake up call should anybody become too complacent with the flowing performance. The trading eights between MacDonald’s intricate saxophone licks and Mackrel’s lively innovative response, that mixed ride, crash and drum intricacies to dynamic heavy hitting style and delight occurred about mid-way through the song. Some fifteen minutes later — plus or minus — the song would end miraculously at the opening recognizable melody. We would bear witness to a trio that was coalescing into a unit of superior form and ultimate groove.

“I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “That Old Devil Moon” and a Kirk MacDonald original tune “Manhattan Getaway” closed out the first set. All the songs were played with serious spirit and intensity. Neil Swainson took many excursions into the melodic domain of his bass violin, displaying moments of excellence in technical and melodical sophistication. One of the top bassists in the world grooving on a Wednesday night — a “Manhattan Getaway” in my own fair city of Toronto. Thanks for the music Kirk MacDonald, Neil Swainson and Dennis Mackrel — the Trio was an exceptional delight to warm your soul on a cold winter’s night.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Paul J. Youngman
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Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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