Juno Series: Coltrane Tribute Pat LaBarbera & Kirk MacDonald

The Rex’s Juno Artist Appreciation Series presents Pat LaBarbera & Kirk MacDonald!

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Pat LaBarbera Kirk MacDonald Quintet: Trane Of Thought, Live At The Rex

“Sometimes the name of an album can be a dead giveaway. Clearly, tenors Pat La Barbera and Kirk MacDonald, the co-leaders of this admirable quintet from north of the border, are enthusiastic admirers and champions of the late great saxophonist John Coltrane. Disciples, yes, but leagues away from slavish imitators. LaBarbera and MacDonald have strong and vibrant voices of their own, which come through loud and clear on Trane of Thought, an exemplary and well-received concert date recorded at the Rex Jazz & Blues Bar in Toronto.

Even so, this is after all a tribute to Coltrane and his massive influence on generations of jazz musicians, saxophonists or no, and all but one of the half-dozen selections were written by the honoree himself (the exception is Tadd Dameron’s silky-smooth curtain-raiser, “On a Misty Night,” which Coltrane recorded with Dameron in 1956). “Misty Night” is followed by the enticing “Village Blues,” the first song recorded by the quartet of Coltrane, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Steve Davis and drummer Elvin Jones. While paring down their vast Coltrane-related library (more than 130 songs) to six was no easy task, LaBarbera and MacDonald chose themes from various periods in Coltane’s career, and pieces ranging from familiar to lesser-known.

As it turns out, everything on the bill of fare is for the most part straight-ahead and linear, the finale perhaps a touch more free-wheeling, consisting as it does of “Acknowledgement / Resolution,” Movements 1 and 2 from “A Love Supreme” (the recording of which by Coltrane’s quartet was released in 1965, two years before his passing). LaBarbera solos on “Acknowledgement,” MacDonald on “Resolution.” For purposes of clarity, the solo order on each track is provided on the album jacket. Whatever the context, LaBarbera and MacDonald are decisively on top of their game, but no more so than the group’s superlative rhythm section, in which a second LaBarbera—drummer Joe—keeps his usual flawless time, ably chaperoned by bassist Neil Swainson and pianist Brian Dickinson. Each of them takes his solo shots as well, and none is found wanting in that quarter. Joe LaBarbera is especially impressive on Coltrane’s boppish flag-waver, “26-2,” Swainson on the charming ballad “Naima” (wondrously prefaced by the unaccompanied tenors), Dickinson whenever the opportunity presents itself.

This is a heartfelt tribute that puts its best foot forward from the outset and never once loses its balance. LaBarbera and MacDonald have immersed themselves in the music of Coltrane, an ardor that is perceptible in every note they play. They and their teammates have put it all together on Trane of Thought, one of the more impressive small-group sessions to saunter into this neighborhood in quite some time.” by Jack Bowers, All About Jazz


Kirk MacDonald – Tenor Sax
Pat LaBarbera – Tenor Sax
Brian Dickinson – Piano
Neil Swainson – Bass
Bob McLaren – Drums

About Pat LaBarbera

saxophonist, flutist, clarinetist, composer, jazz educator was born in Mt. Morris, New York, and spent the first thirty years of his life in the United States before moving to Toronto in 1974. His father taught the basics of music to Pat and his two younger brothers, John (a gifted arranger/trumpeter) and Joe (a highly accomplished drummer). He studied at the famed Berklee College of Music, and soon after graduating, began to make his presence felt with the best of the American big bands.

By the time he relocated to Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1974, Pat LaBarbera was already well-known for his solo work with the bands of Louis Bellson, Woody Herman, and for seven years, touring and recording as featured tenor saxophone soloist with the Buddy Rich Band throughout every major city in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Universally considered one of the world’s most exciting saxophonists.

LaBarbera has performed and recorded consistently with Elvin Jones since 1975, appearing at premier jazz festivals all over the world. After a brief hiatus, he rejoined Elvin Jones’ ‘Time Machine’ in 2001 to perform and tour North America, Britain. Europe, and Japan for the next two years. Describing LaBarbera’s phenomenal talent, Elvin Jones said, “Pat has tremendous musical ability beyond the technical facility. He has great power of concentration to detail and is totally committed with body and soul.” LaBarbera has played on every major network television show including The Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show several times. He has worked with the biggest entertainers in the business including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Corea, Woody Shaw, and McCoy Tyner.

Pat LaBarbera has been among the key members of the Toronto jazz scene for the past three-plus decades, claiming Junos and ‘Jazz Report’ Awards for writing and performing with his own jazz ensembles all along the way. He has been on the full-time teaching faculty at Humber College for the past several years instructing on Saxophone, Ensemble Performance, Jazz Repertoire Development, and Advanced Jazz Theory and Performance. His album, Deep in a Dream, won the 2000 Juno Award for Best Mainstream Jazz Album.

His album, Deep in a Dream, won the 2000 Juno Award for Best Mainstream Jazz Album. His album, Crossing the Line, features pianist Brian Dickinson and bassist Neil Swainson, as well as special guests trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Joe LaBarbera.

In 2013, Pat and pianist Don Thompson released A Little SImple Magic, a duo recording featuring twelve standards.

About Kirk MacDonald

With an established reputation as one of Canada’s leading saxophonists, Kirk MacDonald cut his first record at the age of thirteen. Throughout his career, he has received numerous awards and has worked with many leading musicians in a variety of musical genres. He has performed on over fifty CDs as both leader and sideman and has participated in numerous national broadcast recordings for CBC Radio. In addition to performing extensively throughout Canada, he has also performed in the USA, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Holland, Monaco, Australia, Korea, Bermuda, and the Bahamas.

For over thirty years Kirk MacDonald has worked and recorded with many leading Canadian, U.S., and international jazz musicians including Claude Ranger, Dave Young, Sam Noto, Sonny Greenwich, Kenny Wheeler, Eddie Henderson, Harold Mabern, Walter Bishop Jr., Tom Harrell, Vic Juris, Peter Bernstein, Adam Nussbaum, Rich Perry, Kurt Elling, David Virelles, Ralph Bowen, Dick Oatts, Ben Monder, Seamus Blake, Jonathan Blake, Lorne Lofsky, Bob Mover, Pat LaBarbera, John Taylor, Ron McClure, Jack DeJohnette, Mike Stern, Jim McNeely, Bob Mintzer, Vince Mendoza, John Clayton, Chris Potter, Glenn Ferris, Maria Schneider, Dave Grusin, Danilo Perez, Adam Rogers, Dennis Mackrel, Nancy Walker, Barry Romberg, Andre White, Rob Smith, Brian Dickinson, Denny Christianson, Bernie Senensky, Phil Nimmons, James Moody, Rosemary Clooney, and the Humber College Faculty Ensemble.

Over 100 performances of Kirk MacDonald’s compositions appear on 25 albums, both as a leader and on recordings by other artists. Kirk has established a substantial body of original work as a saxophonist/composer over the past three decades. As a follow-up to his award-winning recordings Symmetry with Tom Harrell, and Vista Obscura with Harold Mabern, MacDonald released Common Ground, a double CD of his compositions arranged by Joe Sullivan for Jazz Orchestra. Silent Voices, a co-led quartet outing with renowned saxophonist Pat LaBarbera, featuring American jazz great Adam Nussbaum on drums. MacDonald’s latest recording Generations brings him back full circle to his roots in a program of jazz standards and the Great American Songbook. Generations features three generations of musicians: the legendary pianist Harold Mabern at age 82 and MacDonald’s wonderfully talented daughter Virginia MacDonald, at age 23, on clarinet.

Kirk MacDonald has been active as an educator for 30 years at leading jazz studies programs such as The University of Toronto, Humber College, and McGill University. Through his work with these programs, numerous live performances, recordings, master classes, and workshops throughout Canada and internationally, Kirk has become one of Canada’s most respected and in-demand educators.

For close to three decades MacDonald has been a leader in his field of performance, composition and education and has had a huge and lasting influence on many of Canada’s younger generation of musicians. Many former students have gone on to forge national and international careers in many genres of music.

Kirk MacDonald is presently a full-time professor at Humber College in Toronto.