What do you get when you take a groundbreaking progressive fusion band and let them run amuck over a slew of jazz standards? The results would probably be what you find here on the latest from McGill Manring Stevens, What We Do. The idea for this album came on the bands tour for their album Controlled By Radar, where at a gig in a Boston Jazz Club they decided to throw in a few jazz classics among their set to a surprisingly wild response, and as the tour progressed they continued the trend. So why not record an album featuring some of these standards by the likes of Miles Davis, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ralph Towner, Sonny Rollins, and others? Well, the band did, and What We Do is the result, and it's a doozy.
This is jazz, but with an avant-garde twist. MMS take these classic standards and run them through their own blender, and in the hands of Scott McGill, Michael Manring, and Vic Stevens, you can expect the final product to be a gourmet feast. McGill pulls in the reigns a little here, going for a more textural approach that is heavy on mood and atmosphere, rather than blasting the listener with flurries of notes. Manring does much of the same, but goes for an assortment of linear passages that rely on odd tunings and manipulations of his bass. Listen to these two masters build to a bombastic crescendo on Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti", moving from jazz to an almost punk-metal, while Stevens crashes along with them with reckless abandon. The far reaching yet savage sounds of Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" is remarkable in the hands of these three, with deep grooves from Manring and Stevens while McGill bounces the main melody lines around the mix with a thick fat tone. Manring throws in a wild Jaco Pastorius-inspired bass solo on this one, which is then followed by an effects laden tirade from McGill that will send shivers up your spine. Other highlights include their take on the timeless "Naima" from John Coltrane, the blazing rendition of Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" (complete with a stunning fretless solo from Manring), and a lovely cover of the Ralph Towner gem "Icarus", which features intricate drum work from Stevens and a great mixture of acoustic and electric textures from McGill.
Some jazz purists might consider releasing an album like this as blasphemy, but really it's something that you can really give MMS credit for, considering the risks they are taking here. The band gives a new spin on these standards that is contemporary, aggressive, dark, and intriguing. Plus, there's a good chance that fans of the band who have maybe never listened to Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, or John Coltrane before might now go out and buy a copy of Nefertiti or Giant Steps after hearing What We Do. That in itself would be a very good thing.
Bonus CD-as an extra value add here, a second CD is included from a scorching set in 2001 at the Orion Sound Studios in Baltimore, Maryland. This just also happened to be the band's first show together, so get your copy of this release early as only the first pressing will have this bonus disk. Included are some McGill and Manring solo material, as well as some early songs the trio wrote together. It's where it all began...
3) Blue in Green
5) Gloria's Step
10) Bessie's Blues
11) Maiden Voyage
Bonus CD-Live at Orion Sound Studios 2001
1) Conflict Resolution
2) The Ripe One
4) Improv 1
5) The Voyage of St. Brendan
6) Improv 2/Drum Solo/In a Gadda DaVinci
7) Bad Hair Day
8) Addition By Subtraction