Jazz CD Review: Macuco Quintet — Welcome “Friendly Signs”

It is this ability to ground their sophistication that makes the Macuco Quintet a band worthy of affection as well as admiration.

By Steve Feeney

Though it has been a particularly steamy summer, it would be a bit of exaggeration to say that Macuco Quintet hails from deep within the rain forest. Cambridge, the band’s home base, has not quite reached tropical status — at least not yet.

South American and Caribbean sources, however, inform the band’s brand of post-bop-meets-the-avant-garde-in-exotic-locales. And that, together which fine musicianship, makes for the spirited and frequently sparkling creative energy displayed on their new release called Friendly Signs (available through bandcamp.com).

Formed in 2014, the group includes veterans of the Boston music scene, performers who serve as educators (at Berklee College of Music and elsewhere) as well as committed purveyors of jazz. Allan Chase (soprano, alto, and baritone saxophones), Rick Stone (alto sax), Joel Springer (tenor and sopranino saxes, claves), Fernando Huergo (bass), and Austin McMahon (drums, percussion) bring studied and versatile skills to bear in this set of ten originals by Springer and one cover of a Julius Hemphill piece. But the results are far from academic.

The Hemphill nod perhaps reflects another musical source for the group by way of the legendary World Saxophone Quartet (two members of this group, Chase and Springer, serve in a long-running foursome called Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet). Predictably, the three-sax frontline makes for some rich, reedy harmonies as well as some intense squawking and squabbling along the way.

The disc opens with “Macucos,” named after a street in Sao Paulo which is in turn named after a South American ground bird. The saxes, indeed, seem to be scurrying about above a fast-paced samba rhythm. Huergo’s electric bass sets the tension: earthiness is an important quality for this group.

“Itajuba” suggests the Brazilian town for which the tune is named. Obviously it is a very welcoming place. Stone solos with a relaxed expressiveness, as if surveying (with delight) the gentle, lived-in scene before him.

Saxophonist Joel Springer formed Macuso Quintet in 2014.

The title cut, Springer tells us, was inspired by Steve Lacy and Haitian compas. Unison lines lead to a collection of dancing solos. Stone takes advantage of prime solo space, with the rhythm section in full churn underneath him.

An odd-meter brand of funk introduces more reflective passages on “Modernismo.” Chase’s baritone sets off a three-way round of sax lines that builds to a collective conversation that reflects (as does the entire disc) the obvious comfort these horn men feel around each other. McMahon’s brief solo brings us back to the piece’s original structure.

“Postcard to Carla” honors Carla Bley’s occasionally quirky compositional sensibility. Chase on soprano solos over chords that provide orchestral breadth before dance rhythms return.

“Sun & Clouds” suggests carefree bucolic moments. Chase’s baritone, followed by Springer’s tenor, evoke the tender soul that is at the center of so many of this group’s compositions and performances. “Leaping Over a Black Pool” takes its inspiration from the far-seeing conceptual vision of Sun Ra.

“Johannzinho” draws on Springer’s compositional sophistication. He notes that the tune brings Gustav Mahler to Brazil. For all that ‘maturity,’ though, this group fully engages with the musical elements (catchy melodies, subtle harmonies, infectious rhythms) of in-the-moment jazz. It is this ability to ground their sophistication that makes the Macuco Quintet a band worthy of affection as well as admiration. The complexity of their vision never stops the members of this remarkable band from playing what they feel.

Steve Feeney is a Maine native and attended schools in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. He has a Master of Arts Degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine. He began reviewing music on a freelance basis for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram in 1995. He was later asked to also review theater and dance. Recently, he has added BroadwayWorld.com as an outlet and is pleased to now contribute to Arts Fuse.

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