When is a solo debut not really a debut? When you’re a McDade
Solon McDade Murals (Independent) You don’t expect anyone’s solo debut to sound this accomplished, but then, it’s not as if Solon McDade started making music yesterday. Growing up in Alberta in the McDade Family Band and taking off with the award-winning McDades seems to have fostered a natural versatility for playing across genres. Check his extensive work as a sideman for many shades of roots and jazz acts.
Still, this quintet session suggests that the Montreal-based bassist excels at playing, composing and arranging in a jazz framework. As the leader-composer, his role feels all about support first, warm, vibrant and grooving down on most tracks, tender and introspective for intimate ballads, always ready to highlight other players. But listen closely. He might be subverting his walk to inject an extra stroke of emotion or a wry aside. When he does solo, he takes over the moment naturally.
Those other players don’t let him down either on a 65-minute, nine-track set of bop and ballads, finding old-school respect for the basic rudiments of melody and rhythm with a contemporary twist.
Up front, a twin sax line features the leader’s brother, Jeremiah McDade, on tenor and Donny Kennedy on alto, both sizzling along pretty effortlessly, occasionally poking the other into all-too-brief exchanges, or playing the heads off of tunes in unison to beautiful harmonic effect. Pianist Paul Shrofel is so elegant, and drummer Rich Irwin masterfully urgent, completing a superb rhythm chemistry around the bass, keeping things spacious with economical punctuation, never overplaying.
But it’s not just the team effort that impresses here. Someone had to set the right pace, and sort out the solos which flow so naturally through seamless transitions, and arrange the beginning, middle and end so each track feels unique unto itself. Someone had to frame the Murals and hand out the paint, and that’s what makes this such a mature set. You could easily mistake them for a bandleader and band who have been playing together for years.
The track titles are the really curious part (liner notes please). I suspect there are some good stories there to tell, but even if you don’t hear them word for word, you will catch their spirit in this expert encounter. Try it on headphones to get every note.
Note: Edmonton-born Solon McDade is back in his hometown this week to celebrate the release of Murals, live at the Yardbird Suite (86 Avenue at Gateway Boulevard), 8 p.m. Friday, complete with the same band from the album. Tickets are $22 for members, $26 for guests, in advance from Tix on the Square or at the box office. The album Murals is available at solonmcdade.com.