Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guitarist Bill MacKay Finds His Sweet Spot

Posted By on 08.26.10 at 02:10 PM

Bill MacKay
  • Bill MacKay
Guitarist Bill MacKay, a Pittsburgh native who moved to Chicago in 1998, has stayed on the margins of the city's jazz and improvised-music scenes, despite playing with folks like Colorlist, Savoir Faire, and Jason Ajemian's Who Cares How Long You Sink—or maybe it'd be more fair to say that he's stayed on the margins of my awareness. MacKay's aesthetic is clearly indebted to the twangy pastoralism of Bill Frisell—a sound that, despite its popularity, lacks a deep connection to most improvised music being made in Chicago.

He's released a couple of solid records over the past six years or so, including 2007's Swim to the River, a nice jazz outing billed to Broken Things, aka MacKay, bassist Ajemian, drummer Tim Daisy, and alto saxophonist Greg Ward. Listening to those records I hear a musician working hard to define himself and create an original sound. Listening to the recent self-titled debut by his ensemble Darts & Arrows, which he started in 2006, I hear a musician who's succeeded in doing just that.

MacKay has always incorporated bits of rock and folk into his music, but whereas his past hybrids have come off slightly clunky, the new one is graceful and seamless. He takes plenty of solos, but his improvisations are thoughtfully woven into the rich arrangements, so that they're integral to the music's structural integrity. The record features Charles Rumback on drums, Matthew Golombisky on bass, and Ben Boye on keyboards (Ward contributes some beautiful clarinet on "Black Leaves"), and they work hard to create a detailed ensemble setting, shaping unobtrusive grooves and harmonic shapes with the same restraint the guitarist applies to his melodic extrapolations. It's difficult to say if what Darts & Arrows play is jazz or folk or rock, and the line between composed and improvised material is likewise fuzzy. Those are both good things in my book, but even better is the way the group's abundantly inventive music flows so naturally, with a delicate rhythmic touch.

Darts & Arrows perform Friday night at the Charleston with a modified lineup: frequent MacKay collaborator Kyle Hernandez will take over on bass and Quin Kirchner will play drums. Below you can hear a track from the new album.

"Road to the Seaway"

Today’s playlist:

Myrmyr, The Amber Sea (Digitalis)
Robert Glasper, Double Booked (Blue Note)
Tommaso Cappellato, Open (Elefante Rosso)
Dumba Kultur, Sabab (Delabel Hostile)
Bebe, Y. (EMI Televisa Music)

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