Edgy, Tuneful, Spanish-Inspired New Violin Jazz From Don Macdonald

by delarue

Jazz violinist Don Macdonald‘s new album Shifting Sands – streaming at Bandcamp – is aptly titled. He and his band don’t stay in one place very long. His compositions are straight-ahead but draw on a multitude of influences, and have a striking translucence that often veers toward the dark side, especially in the Spanish-influenced numbers.

The group open with the title track, moving between brooding Indian-tinged modalities and brighter trip-hop. Pianist Dave Restivo breaks away from from enigmatically circling riffs to more somberly acerbic tones, then guitarist Mike Rud’s Pat Metheny-ish guitar solo brightens the mood. The cycle repeats with lively solos from the bandleader and mandolinist Dylan Ferris.

Dali’s Hourglass is even more darkly bracing, Macdonald sailing uneasily over Restivo’s steady, eerily circling phrases. Again, Rud pushes the clouds away, only for another return and a latin-tinged Restivo solo.

Drummer Steven Parish kicks off Bayou with a jovial New Orleans second-line groove, then Macdonald, Rud and guest violinist Jason Anick have fun teaming up for Cajun, blues, and Wes Montgomery-flavored riffs. Restivo and Macdonald lead the group back to pensive mode with the allusively Middle Eastern-tinged Dreams of Ozymandias, its downwardly stairstepping piano, biting, lingering Macdonald solo over lingering guitar chords and enigmatic ending.

La Tormenta is a quasi-flamenco shuffle, Restivo bringing to mind Chano Dominguez beneath the bandleader’s lively, kinetic lines. Derecho begins with warm solo glimmer from Restivo; that’s either Rob Fahie or Jill McKenna supplying the catchy, funky bassline while Macdonald builds an anthemic attack overhead. The bluesy mando solo, and the stomp up to a false ending are deliciously counterintuitive.

Bembe has lively hints of soukous and Bahian melody, plus shadowy moments to balance the cheeriness. There are imaginative Indian rhythmic tropes, brooding blues and austere resonance in Atacama, arguably the album’s most concise, catchy track. Macdonald winds up the album with his funkiest number here, Homecoming: as he bounces through the blues, you keep waiting for a Hammond organ that never arrives.