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  • Jonathan Widran

DOUG MACDONALD, Sextet Session

 

Though he recorded his first album 45 years ago, a run through versatile master guitarist Doug MacDonald’s recent discography offers us a colorful glimpse into the kinds of ensemble settings he’s enjoyed in recent years, culminating in his epic Big Band Extravaganza in 2023. Among others: The Tarmac Ensemble, Doug MacDonald Quartet, Doug MacDonald Duo, Doug MacDonald Band, Doug MacDonald and The L.A. All-Star Octet, etc. He’s also enjoyed sharing his love for a few locations special to him with Toluca Lake Jazz and Live in Hawaii.


Few of his previous sessions, however, feature MacDonald in a jazz combo featuring three other major soloists. We can check that off the guitarist’s bucket list with the infectiously engaging, ever-hoppin’, deliciously swinging and wildly inventive and adventurous Sextet Session, which features three astonishing marquee soloists Doug Webb (tenor sax), Aaron Janik (trumpet) and Josh Nelson (piano), backed by the snappy foundation of the rhythm section of Mike Gurrola (bass) and Charles Ruggerio (drums).


When Webb and Janik join forces, as they do on certain sections of a fiery romp through Paul Whiteman’s century old “Whispering,” the sound is nearly as brash and bold as MacDonald’s big band. Between those soaring harmonic moments, Janik, MacDonald and Webb bring a dizzying swirl of solo fire back-to-back to back. Sextet Session includes six MacDonald originals, starting with the lightly swinging frolic of “Desert Blues” (which finds Nelson going to town on his solo) and continuing through cleverly titled , bustling gems like “Gee’s Flat” and “Try Ads” and the expansive, hard burning Coltrane-influenced “Si Miner.”


Each arrangement seems designed for quick tradeoffs between players and maximum time for each solo. The set wraps with the aptly sparkling “Bubbles in the Wine,” which begins with some old-timey piano and bounces amiably using the same chords as “Pennies From Heaven.”

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