top of page
  • Jonathan Widran

MADRE VACA, Knights of the Round Table

Not far below the assertion atop Madre Vaca’s home page that the esteemed veteran Jacksonville, FL jazz collective is all about Music For Your Brain, their label posts a more detailed mission statement about “the unfiltered vision of eccentric artists, composers and improvisers,” and invites adventurous listeners to “Go down the rabbit hole with us.”

On their most recent full- length album Winterreise (2020), they went fairly esoteric, presenting eclectic jazz interpretations of Schubert compositions based on 24 poems by German poet Wilhelm Muller. Driven by the spirited and dynamic, whimsical and often unpredictable compositions of drummer Benjam Shorstein (who did the arrangements on Wintereise), Madre Vaca’s latest adventure tackles much more accessible and infectiously engaging territory on Knights of the Round Table, which, true to its title, finds the ensemble creating fun, freewheeling impressionistic interpretations of the major characters and set pieces of the King Arthur legend.

From the sly, hypnotic, brass and flute fired jazz waltz “Lady of the Lake” – featuring a rapturous piano solo by Jonah Pierre – through a boisterous, easy swinging and brassy ode to “Lancelot,” the ten-track, hour-plus set rolls like a joyous, inspiring soundtrack (with a multitude of rhythms, textures and wild solos) to an as yet unshot film covering this evergreen territory in ways previously unimagined (and perhaps unimaginable).

Other highlights/perfect entry points in this majestic and magical realm include a multi-movement ode to Lancelot’s son “Galahad,” which evolves from a thumping militaristic vamp to the elegant operatic vocal expressions of Rebecca Shorstein to a tender acoustic guitar contemplation (by Jarret Carter) and trumpet solo (Steve Strawley); the high intensity big band jazz meets showtune title track, featuring a choir and loads of exciting improvisations; the charming, lyrical ballad “Guinevere” and a percussive, free-jazz, heavily improvisational quest for the mythical “Holy Grail.” Don’t let it be forgot…that this album is a true triumph! Those who purchase a CD will enjoy the fanciful design and thumbnails of all the major characters.


bottom of page