Phil Donkin – The Gate
(Whirlwind Records WR4668. CD review by Mike Collins)
Phil Donkin moved from London to New York at the beginning of this decade having already established himself as bass player of choice with some of the hottest names on both sides of the Atlantic. He lived on Macon Street in Brooklyn and Macon Groove, the second tune of this varied debut album, is named for it. That street may be known locally as ‘Post-Bop Boulevard’ if the burner with a theme of spikey twisting lines and propulsive little riffs launching solos over seething swing is any indication. Donkin effortlessly doubles pianist Glenn Zaleski’s right hand with the first statement of the theme a reminder, if it were needed, of the fearsome technique at the disposal of this New York based quartet also featuring Ben Wendel on saxes and Jochen Rueckert on drums.
Submerged is all dark, cycling chords and a rolling, cymbal smeared groove from the drums giving it a modal feel, One for Johnny is a sleazy, bluesy swinger with dancing piano solo weaving angular lines through the changes, Butterfingers has an insistent, pulsing bass line and no piano, just sax creating a striking harmony with the bass on the theme and the occasional distorted melodic fragment from All the Things You Are before a beguiling twisting solo from Wendel. Monk’s Introspection is taken at a lively clip and Donkin again plays the head after a viscerally grooving unaccompanied solo to warm us up. If that was all there was to this album it would be a treat: top class players stretching out on some great originals. There’s another thread running through this album however. The title track The Gate also starts with a bass solo, but one that immediately evokes a different harmonic pallete and develops a steady pulse as Wendel unfurls a wistful theme with elegiac shifts of harmony. Both he and Zaleski whose piano solo follows, give their melodic imaginations full rein. It’s a stand out track. Yet other moods are explored. The opener La Jurona has a slightly wonky Latin feel and there are others in that more contemplative vein. The album ends with an arrangement of a Shostakovich Prelude.
This is a top drawer outfit playing mainly Donkin originals. There’s a core of pulsating, contemporary jazz with a thread of thoughtful, lustrous beauty woven through it. The band make light of twists and shifts of harmony and metre with some fabulous soloing. Donkin grabs the ear without being showy. His drive, sound and melodic sense make it clear why he’s in such demand. There is just a feeling at times on this set that these fantastic musicians have got another gear. The live gigs with the launch tour coming up in March should be quite a show.
PHIL DONKIN THE GATE ALBUM RELEASE UK TOUR (FULL DETAILS HERE)
BEN WENDEL, GLENN ZALESKI AND COLIN STRANAHAN
3rd March – POOLE, SOUND CELLAR – 8:30PM.
4th March – CARDIFF, DEMPSEY’S 9:00PM.
5th March – NOTTINGHAMSHIRE BONINGTON THEATRE 8:00PM.
6th March – SHEFFIELD JAZZ – 8:30PM.
10th March – LONDON PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB
11th March – BIRMINGHAM, URBAN COFFEE 8:00PM.
12th March – OXFORD, THE SPIN
13th March – WAKEFIELD JAZZ CLUB 8:30PM