Peter MacDonough - The WOO: A Latin Suite for Soprano Saxophone
Jazz Times review - Robert Sutton.
Peter MacDonough isn’t in Kansas anymore. The saxophonist is swept from his Australian residence and into the other Oz, the Land of Oz.
For the most part when artists, especially jazz musicians, decide to produce an album of covers, there’s always an unfortunate lack of imagination, mainly out of fear of desecrating the originals. MacDonough refuses to fall into the same bear trap. MacDonough’s vision of updating "The Wizard of Oz"’s ’39 vintage jukebox into Latin-fueled grooves is akin to when Dorothy Gale’s world switches from black and white to color after her house crash lands onto Oz.
On the surface, "The WOO: A Latin Suite for Soprano Saxophone" may seem like a novelty item, yet another gimmick designed to capitalize on "The Wizard of Oz"’s legacy. But MacDonough hushes such fears from the beginning with “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” MacDonough’s sax glides across Jovino Santos Neto's relaxed piano melody with the brightly colored majesty of a kingfisher in flight. “We’re Off to See the Wizard” becomes a foot-stomping jam with Neto's sprightly piano and MacDonough’s sax carrying off the famous hook. The Latin beat frenzy of “Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are (Part II)” is propelled by Michael Spiro's tumbling percussion as MacDonough’s saxophone slinks its way into its infectious rhythm. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” eschews schmaltz and is reinvigorated with thumping drums and dreamy saxophone.
Among the most impressive qualities of the CD is that it is made to be experienced from beginning to end. The songs tell the story of the film through its various layers of rhythm and melody, mood and tempo. On “If I Only Had a Brain,” MacDonough’s playful sax captures the Scarecrow’s childlike innocence.
allaboutjazz review 1/2/2011
t would seem fitting that a tribute album to The Wizard of Oz would be by a man from Oz. But don't peg The Woo: A Latin Jazz Suite for Soprano Saxophone as some novelty item. Saxophonist Peter MacDonough has reinterpreted songs from the 1939 film in an Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian context. The Wizard of Oz is no stranger to pop-culture makeovers; in fact, about 20 years ago an urban legend circulated that Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon LP could be played alongside the movie and provide an eerily accurate scene-by-scene commentary. But MacDonough takes homage to another level, approaching each vintage piece as a structure to build new ideas on.
MacDonough has been playing music since the age of nine, which was when he was also named “Musician of the Year." By 13, MacDonough was selected to the All-State band on clarinet and bass clarinet; two years later, he joined the Richmond Youth Symphony under maestro Fritz Mareffi on clarinet, bass clarinet, and bassoon. He earned a full music scholarship at Valley Forge Military Academy at the age of 16. In 1991, MacDonough released his debut album, “Café Bozart," a tribute to one of his idols, Jay Beckenstein, saxophonist for Spyro Gyra.
The Woo: A Latin Jazz Suite for Soprano Saxophone is MacDonough's most ambitious effort to date. None of the old Wizard of Oz tunes are disassembled beyond recognition; rather, they are spiced up. “Optimistic Voices" is stoked by a shuffling beat as MacDonough's big, bold sax is as bright and eye-popping as a rainbow's spectrum of colors. MacDonough's soothing saxophones on “Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are (Part I)" illustrates the awe-inspiring beauty of the Emerald City. Each track is given the same amount of attention and affection. What may have been originally intended as a loving tribute can stand proudly by itself.