Geordie McDonald

Revibing Giusseppi Logan
Booklet notes for Sonnavista Editions No #

“I have only improvised in my career,” avers Toronto percussionist Geordie McDonald when asked about this unique recording. “But I don’t play totally improvised music from scratch. I like to have a head that establishes the character and space in which to play.”

That’s why Montreal-born McDonald, who over a 40-year career has been involved in sonic situations as different as creating electro-acoustic music with other young experimenters; drumming in one of Neil Young’s early rock bands; and improvising advanced jazz with pianist Paul Bley; decided to record these six originals, composed and first recorded by legendary New Thing saxophonist Giuseppi Logan. “Logan was the Erik Satie of Jazz, his heads are so minimal,” explains McDonald.

Part of the wave of players who appeared in the wake of Ornette Coleman’s initial advances, Logan (born in Philadelphia in 1935), was a multi-instrumentalist – he played alto and tenor saxophone bass clarinet, flute, piano and Pakistani oboe – who in the mid-1960s made two LPs for ESP-Disk, appeared on an Impulse! album by trombonist Roswell Rudd, then vanished. Always a shadowy figure, he was recently discovered by a Christian missionary group living hand-to-mouth in New York.

Milford Graves – an avowed influence on McDonald – is a presence on Logan’s solo disks playing drums and tabla, so it only took a little persuasion from Toronto saxophonist Glen Hall – with whom McDonald worked on a CD interpreting William Burroughs’ work a decade ago – to convince the percussionist to create this notable disc.

Hall, who is featured throughout on tenor and soprano saxophones, is only one of the players “with voices of their own” favored by the percussionist. Hall has recorded with drummer William Hooker and arranger Gil Evans among others. Others McDonald recruited for this project are Len Boyd, who taught double bass to generations of students at Toronto’s Humber College as well as working with stylists as different as Duke Ellington and Bud Powell; and Mark Hundevad, an associate of such advanced players as reedist Sabir Mateen and trumpeter Raphe Malik, whose advanced skills on steel drum and vibes give this CD its distinctive title. Finally, Ritesh Das, founder of the Toronto Tabla Ensemble, who studied with Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, brings his talents to “Tabla Suite”.

Listening to the track, you hear the interaction that characterizes the entire date. Although Das is pounding the tabla and chanting in a traditional manner, his textures intertwine perfectly with McDonald’s clanging cymbals and the light dusting of quivers from Hundevad’s vibes. With rhythmic tempering from Boyd’s arco sweeps, the tune evolves contrapuntally, with Hall outlining the theme, accompanied by bell shaking, scraping vibraharp notes and a final gong resonation.

Group expression asserts itself throughout, as on tracks such as “’Taneous”. Here Boyd’s thick walking bass chords and the drummer’s doubled pulses and rolls unfold in lockstep, allowing Hall’s soprano saxophone lines to modulate in a serpentine manner. When the sax man speeds up the tempo, the result is colored by Hundevad’s steel pan concussion. “Wretched Saturday” further confirms the band’s versatility, with Hall – on tenor saxophone this time – pumping out Tranesque note extensions, as the drums click, clack, rebound and roll. Elsewhere Boyd’s rhythmic impetus is so pronounced that he could be playing an electric bass, yet he can also slap and slide with equal finesse.

But why enumerate the joys of this session when you can hear it yourself? All of the musicians here may be veterans. But they’re also old enough to know better; that is how not to exactly replicate any music. Unlike recreations of the mid-century jazz repertoire by the so-called Young Lions, the members of the McDonald crew not only showcase the sounds of an unjustly neglected composer here, but they do so in a way that make the reconstituted pieces fresh sounding and well-defined.

Logan would probably like this session; you surely will.

Ken Waxman ( Toronto December 2008