Mack Avenue Superband
Berklee Performance Center
Thursday, Feb 4, 2016
The Mack Avenue Superband, an energetic and star-studded six-piece jazz ensemble, performed at the Berklee Performance Center last Thursday.
For a fan of jazz, the collection of talent onstage was extraordinary. The group is anchored by the living legend Gary Burton, who has been innovating on the vibraphone since the 1960s and has 15 Grammy nominations to his name. The backbone of the band is the Christian McBride Trio, headed by four-time Grammy winning virtuoso Christian McBride on bass.
Most of the pieces were composed by members of the band and are featured on their new album, Live from the Detroit Jazz Festival 2015. Since 2013, the Superband has released an album of their great performances at the Detroit Jazz Festival every year.
The first piece, “Preach Hank!,” a medium-tempo swing that featured every instrument, was pretty tidy. Trumpeter Sean Jones stole the show with a grooving solo that hit screeching high notes with ease.
The next piece, my favorite, was “Decisive Steps,” an original composition by saxophonist Tia Fuller. She wrote the piece as a message to her students, encouraging them to step forward “with faith and not fear.” It starts out hesitantly with changing time signatures, but settles on a quick tempo for the solos. Although Fuller’s tone throughout the evening was a bit too strident for my taste, she was stellar on her own piece, pressing forward with urgency and edginess.
The improvisation was a lot more raw than you might hear on the album — in front of a live audience, the performers had more liberty to experiment with tonality and dissonance.
Perhaps the most impressive display of the night was from pianist Christian Sands. His accompaniment throughout the evening was rock-solid, but his solos really showed off his vast knowledge of jazz. He can string together handfuls of tough, innovative chords, and his improvisation has a lot of ingenuity. He has a unique style, both surprising and scintillating.
Many of these master musicians are Berklee educators. Jones is head of the brass department there, and Fuller is a professor in the ensembles department. Burton, a former professor, was also executive vice president of the college.
You won’t get to see this group in Boston again any time soon; they’re touring the Midwest and West Coast for the next few months.