Monthly Archives: August 2011

Curtis Macdonald’s Community Immunity

This article appears in the August issue of The New York City Jazz Record. 

From the opening notes of the labyrinthine title track, it’s clear that Community Immunity is much more than your average modern jazz album by a group of gifted young musicians. The 30-second piano intro — performed flawlessly by the remarkable pianist David Virelles – - is a brilliant encapsulation of the tune itself — an intricately crafted study in polytonality that saxophonist Curtis Macdonald’s quintet imbues with an effortless groove.

The piece — and the entire album — is a study in compression and expansion, compositional detail and improvisational freedom, and both the composer and band deliver on all counts.

Following the serpentine melody, Macdonald delivers a beautifully concise statement on alto that manages to speak volumes without rising above a bell-like whisper, after which Virelles enters with an exuberant statement that tests the limits of the piece’s rhythmic and harmonic bounds with long brushstrokes of arpeggiated color.

Throughout the disc, bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Greg Ritchie provide flexible yet rock- solid backing, navigating often-treacherous rhythmic terrain with ease while maintaining an unfailing groove and momentum. The rhythmic tandem sound equally assured on dreamy ballads like “The Imagineer” — which features Ritchie’s supple brush work along with Tordini’s gorgeous tone and harmonic imagination — to the hurtling flag waver “The Living Well.”

Macdonald’s deep interest and grasp of topics as seemingly diverse as mathematics, linguistics, sound and graphic design and philosophy, and his irrepressible interest in tracing those pursuits to a common origin with music and all creative endeavors, play a vital role in his compositional technique. The saxophonist examines these ideas at length on his blog, but leaves it to his meticulously beautiful compositions and gifted band-mates to pose answers in the form of infinitely more questions.

Compositions like “Second Guessing” — a rhythmic and improvisational tour-de-force — speak to the nature of creativity and imagination as Macdonald describes on his blog, as a process of using the imagination as an “empirical, scientific” foundation for exploration. The piece’s melody sounds like a series of spontaneous ideas worked and refined through a meticulous creative process, but still retaining their freshness. Pianist Michal Vanoucek solos memorably on the tune’s brisk, synchopated form, but it is MacDonald’s spirited back-and-forth with tenor saxophonist Jeremy Viner’s muscular, emotive lines that is the high point — one of many on this important album.