CD review

Charles McPherson – “Jazz Dance Suites”

Charles McPherson – Jazz Dance Suites
(Chazz Mack Music. CD Review by Frank Griffith)

Alto saxophonist Charles McPherson‘s distinctive musical personality is rooted in bebop, bluesiness with a bouncy and vibrant gait. It slithers and weaves – making it an effective complement for dance. Jazz Dance Suites was inspired by and dedicated to his daughter, Camille, a soloist in the San Diego Ballet. Two works – Song of Songs and Sweet Synergy Suite – comprise most of the album which also includes a six-minute piece entitled Reflection on an Election which is a response to the 2016 American election. This leaves the listener with a clear impression of where the composer stands on the (still!) current administration.

McPherson’s association with the the San Diego Ballet started in 2015, leading to commissions that balance his brilliant improvisations with compositional prowess providing the impetus for daughter, Camille’s solo turns in her eight seasons with this highly-regarded dance company. The remarkable cohort of NYC stalwarts includes the likes of Jeb Patton– piano, David Wong– bass, and Billy Drummond-drums, as well as eminent trumpeter, Terrell Stafford, Israeli guitarist, Yotam Silberstein, and vocalist Lorraine Casselles. All of whom rise to the occasion with aplomb interpreting McPherson’s unique and heartfelt themes adding their own individual improvisational voices as well. The presence of Portland , Oregon-based pianist, Randy Porter, is also notable. His magnificent solo version of “After the Dance” with nods to the rhythm and harmony of “Love Dance” scores highly. He also produced and mixed the recording brilliantly. Porter holds McPherson in high esteem, the saxophonist having been his mentor as well as collaborator for untold years.

Sadly, due to the Covid pandemic much of this music has yet be shared live,  to which McPherson says: “In live performance, the audience is giving you something back- the reaction is informing the performer in a subliminal way. That’s a magical human thing going on there”. His striving to develop an an original compositional voice also elicited the following words- “I keep looking for new melodic themes. One of the hardest things in music is to find melodic ideas that haven’t been done. That’s very hard. Its a much more complicated thing to be melodic and strong and original. To be insightful and new- that’s hard.. Its not easy to come up with a musical theme that resonates with the human soul. That separates the the genius form the journeyman.” He adds –  “you have to realise that improvising and writing come from the same part of the brain. A composition is a “frozen solo” whereas improvising is you didn’t freeze it, its a just a stream of consciousness. But it comes from the same part of the mind, actually.”

The above speakings and views communicate McPherson’s clear and deeply-informed approach to writing and performing jazz in a context with what might initially seem a very different art form like ballet. However, his arranging and compositions demonstrate a unique and successful blend of genres. These are fresh, new and powerful sounds from a legendary alto saxophonist. Even more beautiful is that he was inspired to create these Jazz Dance Suites for his talented daughter.

Jazz Dance Suites is released today, 25 September 2020. 

We would like to thank Charles McPherson for contributing to our recent celebration of Peter King’s 80th and  our Parker centenary pieces

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