Doug MacDonald and the L.A. All-Star Octet: Overtones
By JACK BOWERS
February 23, 2022
Doug MacDonald's mind is as active as his fingers. The Los Angeles-based guitarist divides his time between writing and playing, and he writes as well as he plays, which is impeccably. Overtones, on which he leads an All-Star Octet (we checked, and all-star is precisely the proper term), is MacDonald's fourth album in the last year or so and twentieth-plus over-all. As is generally the case, most of the songs are his (seven of eight), and they are consistently bright and swinging. The lone exception is the standard "Lover Man," an opulent showcase for MacDonald's expressive guitar.
Like such illustrious forebears as Gerry Mulligan, Marty Paich, Bill Holman, Dave Brubeck and others, MacDonald knows how to make a mid-size group sparkle, using all its parts to design a sturdy and animated engine to power the bus. As for wheels, he can rely on the talents of alto Kim Richmond, tenor Rickey Woodard, trombonist Ira Nepus and trumpeter Aaron Janik on the front line, ably supported by pianist Bill Cunliffe, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Roy McCurdy. As noted, each one an all-star in his own realm.
The best way to open any session, octet or otherwise, is to come out swinging, as MacDonald and his teammates do on "Night by Night" (a moonlit version of the standard "Day by Day"), on which everyone but McCurdy solos. "Bossa for PK," which follows, is a zephyr-like bow to drummer and educator Paul Kreibich who sits in on shaker. The groove is wide and deep on "Blues by Eight," which precedes the genial mid-tempo jazz waltz, "Hortense," and ardent "Lover Man." Funk squeezes through the door on "Over #21," but not enough to tip the straight-on scales, thanks in part to plain-spoken solos by Nepus, Woodard and MacDonald. "Ground Up" embraces an ambience reminiscent of Paich and Holman, as does the prancing finale, "Rickey Speaking," written for Woodard, one of southern California's partially hidden treasures.
With MacDonald, Richmond, Woodard, Nepus and Cunliffe on their game and trading well-aimed volleys, there is no cause for complaint, while Janik, a new name here, also speaks with assurance. As for Berghofer and McCurdy, one couldn't ask for a more capable and responsive rhythm component. Even so, it is MacDonald's ear as much as his hands that enriches the enterprise and raises Overtones from admirable to superior.