The Jazz Mann 20/3/2019
Guitarist, composer and educator Kevin MacKenzie has been a stalwart of the Scottish jazz scene for a number of years as both leader and sideman. A former member of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra he was also the recipient of a Creative Scotland Award in 2001, the prize money helping to finance the recording of the acclaimed album “Another New Horizon”, which featured his nine piece ensemble Vital Signs, an amalgam of leading Scottish jazz and folk musicians.
MacKenzie has also recorded in trio and quartet formats and as a duo with pianist Steve Hamilton. A musician with an international reputation his albums have featured contributions from such jazz heavyweights as saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Julian Arguelles and drummer Martin France.
Full details of MacKenzie’s discography and of his current projects can be found at his website http://www.kevinmackenzie.co.uk
MacKenzie’s latest album release finds him in the company of two other leading figures on the Scottish jazz scene, Brazilian born bassist Mario Caribe and drummer Alyn Cosker, both also composers and bandleaders in their own right.
The programme consists of nine MacKenzie originals, many of them inspired by his young family, plus a genuinely innovative arrangement of Django Reinhardt’s much covered “Nuages”
Opening track “The Mouse Commute” was written in honour of a small rodent who took up residence in MacKenzie’s car and thus accompanied him, unseen, on numerous trips to the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow where the guitarist has a teaching post. Musically the piece demonstrates the excellent rapport between these three bastions of Scottish jazz. The leader’s guitar is vaguely reminiscent of the late John Abercrombie as MacKenzie probes gently, his furtive scurrying runs evoking the mouse of the title. Cosker’s playing is finely detailed, becoming busier and more forceful and energetic as the piece progresses, culminating in something of a feature for this dynamic drummer. Caribe is a rock throughout, exhibiting a powerful tone and great dexterity as he negotiates the complexities of MacKenzie’s composition with its 5/4 time signature.
The title track is named for a class mate of MacKenzie’s four year old son, Finlay. It’s a genuine ballad with the kind of lilting melody that Pat Metheny would be proud of. MacKenzie’s cleanly picked lines impart a sense of yearning and spaciousness and he’s accompanied by Caribe’s melodic double bass and Cosker’s subtle drum work, deploying a combination of brushes and sticks. Caribe impresses with his first extended solo of the set, skilfully accompanied by Cosker.
“Snood Dude” is dedicated to young Finlay, who has a particular fondness for the article of apparel in question. The tune ups the pace once more with Caribe’s rapid bass grooves and Cosker’s crisply energetic drumming fuelling MacKenzie’s slippery guitar melody lines. There’s an energy and joyousness about the piece that recalls the more upbeat offerings on Metheny’s “Bright Size Life”.
There’s also a vigorously plucked double bass solo from the impressive Caribe that really gives him an opportunity to demonstrate his virtuosity on the instrument.
Also inspired by Finlay the title “The Waiter” refers to the boy’s confusion between the words ‘wait’ and ‘weight’. Introduced by Cosker at the drums the piece acts as the vehicle for an absorbing three way conversation between these musical friends with MacKenzie’s gently rambling guitar solo underpinned by Caribe’s deep bass lines and Cosker’s distinctive, constantly evolving drumming. Space is left for another impressive bass excursion from Caribe.
“The Mighty Flo” is dedicated to MacKenzie’s young daughter Flora and includes traces of folk like melodies within the jazz framework as the trio stretch out at length in a consistently absorbing dialogue that embraces extended solos from both MacKenzie and Caribe plus something of a feature from the consistently impressive Cosker.
As its title suggests “Caribe’s Cachaca Capers” is a playful piece dedicated to the trio’s bassist and his fondness for the Brazilian spirit Cachaca. Vibrant Brazilian and Latin rhythms help to fuel MacKenzie’s allusion filled solo and there’s another stunning performance behind the kit from Cosker.
MacKenzie’s elegant waltz time arrangement of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” casts the old favourite in a new light in a sensitive, but rigorous, trio performance.
“If A Tree Falls” references MacKenzie’s dislike of social media. Cosker’s shuffling drum grooves allied to Caribe’s muscular bass lines move the piece on at a fair old clip as MacKenzie’s guitar dances lithely above the propulsive rhythmic backdrop. Caribe also features with a powerfully plucked bass solo.
“Blues Shoes” pretty much does what it says on the tin, it’s a blues that allows for much spirited trio interplay with fiery individual solos from all three protagonists.
Finally we hear “Sisyphus”, with MacKenzie declaring the title to be “a metaphor for trying to sustain a long term career as a musician”. It’s one of the album’s most impressive pieces, a slow burner that gradually grows in intensity, brooding and simmering atmospherically before finally coming to the boil. MacKenzie’s solo bursts free of the body of the song with a striking emphasis in a blend of jazz chops with rock inspired dynamics. Having reached a peak the piece resolves itself with a richly evocative closing section that sees Caribe making effective use of the bow.
“The Ballad of Future Joe” represents an impressive offering from MacKenzie and his colleagues. Engineer Gus Satirist’s well balanced mix serves the musicians well, capturing their finely honed rapport and bringing out the full details and nuances of the playing. MacKenzie’s tone is warm and conversational almost throughout, his sound pure and clean and unencumbered by the use of effects. His chemistry with Cosker is exceptional, with Caribe often playing an anchoring role as MacKenzie and the drummer bounce ideas off each other. Cosker is a busy drummer with a superb technique which he utilises to the full, but without ever imposing too much. Meanwhile Caribe makes the most of his own soloing opportunities.
As a writer MacKenzie gives his colleagues a wealth of interesting material to work with and his colleagues respond well with some excellent playing throughout. Guitar fans, and particularly Pat Metheny’s many followers, will find much to enjoy here – I was reminded of Metheny’s landmark début, “Bright Size Life”, on more than one occasion.
On the evidence of this recording one imagines that this trio would also represent an impressive and exciting live act. Let’s hope that 2019 offers them some suitable gigging opportunities to demonstrate this.
BALLAD OF FUTURE JOE: THE JAZZ MANN REVIEW