Sara McDonald – A Very Tiny Big Band Album

mcdonald(Available on Bandcamp)

Ever heard a big band version of a Grizzly Bear song? This Brooklyn-based recent New School for Jazz and Contemporary School graduate tackles Southern Point with a big band in Germany. Of course it works a treat – we should have predicted that, with the rich multi-layering that Grizzly Beat achieved on the original – but it’s still a fine reworking, arranged by McDonald herself.

The rest of the album is of McDonald original compositions and arrangements, and it’s equally enjoyable. McDonald sings with that direct plainness that the whole bunch of good young US-based singers have, from Becca Stevens to Nicky Schrire – it’s such a pleasure to be free of that cabaret jazz convention that afflicted whole generations of singers before the current one.

And the writing is interesting too. Dead The Trees (great title!) has about three strong melodic themes packed into its five and three quarter minutes, and a mood that starts with just piano and swells to rich full band sonorities before retreating back to the piano. The harmonic and timbral palette is wide-ranging, from flutes through to punchy trombones over a waltzing electric bass.

Isobel again features the rich horn writing and builds to a whole choir of reciting McDonalds. And (over)critical as I am of original jazz lyrics, I found all four McDonald compositions blissfully free of cringe-making lines.

Earlier this year McDonald won the Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award – I’m not surprised.

A Very Tiny Big Band Album hasn’t yet been released as a physical album, but you can stream the music and then download it for a modest fee here.

Categories: CD review

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