Mark Whitfield: Live & Uncut (Chesky)

Review of live trio album from veteran guitarist featuring Ben Allison and Billy Drummond

MarkWhitfield

Mark Whitfield album "Live and Uncut"

The big concept for the latest release from guitarist Mark Whitfield is … no concept. As suggested by the album’s title, it’s a document of a concert recorded earlier this year at Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan. Chesky simply rounded up bassist Ben Allison and drummer Billy Drummond, both of whom had previously worked with Whitfield, picked a suitable performance space and gear ensuring pristine sound, gathered an audience and pressed “record.”

Trio magic, more or less, ensues as the three, captured on a single binaural mic enabling heightened intimacy, turn in four tried-and-true standards and two Drummond originals. Live & Uncut offers a meat-and-potatoes approach to album production and programming, and the resultant sonic stew is plenty tasty, starting with “Without a Song,” at more than 10 minutes the disc’s longest track. Strolling at a midtempo pace, Whitfield follows his mostly unadorned reading of the melody with a solo spiced with speedy single-note runs and chordal figures, and drops in and out of the soundscape for Allison’s roving solo, followed by a trading-fours section. For “Invitation,” the musicians dispense with the typical Latin-to-swing format, sticking to a modified bossa rhythm. They frontload “Willow Weep for Me” with a bluesy, back-beating intro.

Monk is here twice, with an appropriately chunky reading of his leapfrogging “Jackie-ing,” featuring some of the group’s most inspired rhythmic interplay and an extended showcase for the rhythm section, and Drummond’s “Changes for Monk and Trane,” its zippy melody topping crawling chord changes. While there are no surprises here, Whitfield, Allison and Drummond successfully provide a pleasant, up-close view of three great musicians doing the thing they do so well. And that’s reward enough.

Preview, buy or download songs from the album Live and Uncut by guitarist Mark Whitfield on iTunes.

Read Mike Joyce’s review of Grace (Marksman) by guitarist Mark Whitfield, from the April 2017 issue of JazzTimes.