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June 2024
Vol. 23, No. 9

CD Reviews

MACKENZIE LEIGHTON: I Remember

by Wayne RikerJune 2024

I Remember is the second CD drop from bassist Mackenzie Leighton. Usually, bassists are holding down the rhythm section in most styles of music, but many have come front and center over the decades as the lead compositional instrument, from Charles Mingus, Dave Holland, Stanley Clarke, and Jaco Pastorius to more recent bassists Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey, and Michael Manring.

The 12 original Leighton compositions are rounded out by Ed Kornhauser on piano, Ian Harland on vibraphone, and Tyler Kreutel on drums with the project engineered and mixed by Ian Tordella and mastered by Chris Hobson.

In past days this quartet instrumentation, especially with an upright acoustic bass, would be immediately labeled jazz. Although there are certainly jazz elements abounding, Leighton’s tunes are heavily compositional with a diversity of rhythmic grooves, shifting tempos and melodic complexity.

The opening track, “Western Man,” an uptempo mainstream jazz goodie, is set in the traditional jazz structure, A-B-A (melody-improv- melody) with Harland and Kornhauser breaking out with back-to-back fluid solos, leaving no doubt of their improvisational prowess, with Leighton and Kreutel following with respective solos and finishing the traditional order of quartet soloing.

Leighton teases us on the tune “Hematology,” with a shift between a soul/jazz groove and swing rhythm featuring Kornhauser’s funky piano chops, à la Horace Silver, and Leighton’s soulful bass motifs throughout, followed by “Summer Strollin’,” which opens with Leighton’s fluid high-register melody with echoes of bassist Scott LaFaro, followed throughout by Harland’s cool and breezy vibraphone licks, a track bringing back memories of a Blue Note label session.

The dreamy ballad, “November,” is a peaceful melody set against garden variety chords and colorful major pentatonic tones, with tasteful solos from Harland and Kornhauser, a compositional tune that Pat Metheny would be proud of.

Adding to the compositional diversity is the short piece, “V&B,” a Baroque-style duet with Leighton and Harland sharing melodic counterpoint motifs, followed by “Je Me Souviens,” a ballad with a musical conversation between Harland and Leighton on bowed bass supported by Kreutel’s nifty brush work on the skins.

The quartet is on fire on “PM/AM,” a splendid jazz/fusion melody with blazing solos from Kornhauser and Harland, additionally, reminiscent of Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke’s piano and bass collaborations, fueled by Leighton’s powerful bass obligato riffs throughout.

The quartet gets back into a funky soul/jazz groove on “The Obfuscator,” fueled by Leighton’s syncopated soulful bass riffs that lead the way throughout in tandem with Kreutel’s drum riffs.

“Sage,” a haunting composition set against non-diatonic chord changes and moments of free time, showcases Leighton’s adept soloing amid Harland’s intermittent vibraphone phrases creating an overall lovely symphonic vibe.

“Song for JP,” which I’m assuming is a tribute to Jaco Pastorius, is a compositional gem that starts in requiem fashion with Leighton’s weeping bowed bass tones segueing into a campy tango rhythm before Kreutel’s drum interlude signals a transition into a smooth bossa nova rhythm that highlights Harlan’s silky smooth vibraphone lines until ending with Leighton’s auspicious bass tones, with the final chord cleverly resolving on a “Picardy Third” for good measure.

I Remember should be an entertaining listen for most any music lover as it traverses myriad musical settings with alluring melodies and dazzling solos with Leighton proving himself to be not only a top-notch rhythm section bassist, but a strong soloist and composer whom we certainly will be hearing more from down the road.

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