Raymond MacDonald




“Buddy” (Textile TCD24)

Raymond MacDonald International Big Band


"It's become a cliche these days for jazz musicians

to say that their music explores the tension between

improvisation and composition, even when that

means little more than a superficial tweek of the

traditional head-solo-head structure. But here's a project that actually means it.


As a founding member of The Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, Scottish saxophonist Raymond MacDopnald has devoted much of his energies over the last eight years to negotiating approaches to improvisation - such as conduction, unconventional notation and structured responses to visula stimulii - in an attempt to prove that it is possible to improvise effrectivelyin a large group context.


Fpr this session, recorded in Tokyo in 2008, he convened a 12-piece ensemble that included pianist Atoko Fujii, The Necks' bassist Lloyd Swanton and Jim O'Rourke on guitar. This heavyweight international group sounds a lot like the Ttransatlantic version of Spring Heel Jack featured on 2003's Live, with O'Rourke's scabrous electric guitar occupying similar space to John Coxon's work. But, whereasSpring Heel Jack was ostensibly playing free, here MacDonald employs various 'devised' techniques that direct the pieces - and reveal important influences.


"Conduction Instruction" clearly owes much to Buch Morris's system of hand signals (itself a refinement of Sun Ra's guided big band improvisations), building an erratic, unpredictable series of quick changes. Morris's presence can also be felt in the unusual instumental grouping: for instance bringing a kotoand a tuba together with Maki Hachiya's effervescent vocalisations in an unlikely but easy democracy.


"Why I Missed Cole Porter" is a slinky jazz ballad, notated with the command to "play what is written or play whatever you want". And "Hearing , Not Talking: Tokyo" is a text piece in which the musicians follow written instructions such as "copy the quietest instrument for two minutes".


What's impressive is the way these experiments avoid sounding overly academic. MacDonald marshals the large ensemble through swelling tides of emotional intensity, at times approaching the explosive turbulence of Peter Brotzmann's Chicago Tentet and the epic scale of George Russell's Electronoc Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature. In terms of MacDonald's original brief, it's an unqualified success.

Daniel Spicer




Buddy” (Textile TCD24) ****

Raymond MacDonald International Big Band


"There is a 4 star review in Metro today for

the Raymond Macdonald International

Big Band - Buddy. "Between composition and

improvisation lies not so much a wall as a

swamp, were the unwary drown and through which imaginative folk find diverse paths This is home turf for adventurous Scottish saxophonist Raymond MacDonald, who leads 12 musicians who have never played together into the morass and emerges with some exhilarating music. it eliminates the boundaries not just between composition and improvisation but between cultures and idioms.


Recorded live in Tokyo, his band includes Australians Alister Spence (piano), Lloyd Swanton (bass) and Toby Hall (drums) and ex-Sonic Youth guitarist Jim O'Rourke. MacDonald joins Spence's Trio at the Sound Lounge, February 5."

John Shand, Metro

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