A Welcome Guest
On Just Passing Thru
Miles Donahue makes himself comfortable
Miles Donahue’s latest album, coming on the heels of The Bug (Whaling City Sound, 2017), Just Passing Thru is large in scope and beautiful in execution. The absurdly talented player, vibrant on both tenor and soprano saxes, trumpet, and keyboard, shows just how broad his musical wingspan is. It certainly helps that he has an amazing crew behind him. Joe Santerre provides power grooves on electric bass as does Larry Finn on drums. They are joined by percussionist Ricardo Monzon, keyboard player Alain Mallet, and a handful of tracks featuring guitarist Mike Stern. With a vision that includes Crusaders’ style R&B, Weather Report fusion, and lovely, soulful turns, Donahue is masterly and versatile.
From song to song, there are wide swings of style and substance, from moments of tenderness, passages of grandeur, and fistfuls of exhilarating, technical wonder. The opening “Hear My Words” kicks off with an ingenious, shuffling melody that settles into a samba, and then finishes with a little funk. “Living Room Blues” swings with verve and passion, showcasing Santerre’s powerful bass. “A Man of a Few Words” opens with an introspective statement that morphs into alto soulfulness, buoyed by Mallet’s beautiful electric piano. “Railroaded” has a funk foundation to go along with its zesty ensemble playing. Joining that performance is none other than Mike Stern, one of the great voices in jazz guitar, and his solo here is proof of that. And then there’s the surprising “Ireland,” a nod to Donahue’s ancestral homeland that is both respectful and anthemic, in the way a rock song is anthemic. Talk about unexpected!
Throughout Donahue’s lovely Whaling City Sound recording, he never fails to challenge convention. In many, often subtle ways, he ventures out on the unexpected limb rather than the sturdy one that’s already been tried. His adventurousness is gratifying. Donahue finds a myriad of ways to reward his listeners and we are grateful for that. It may or may not be a fact that jazz musicians age with grace and class. In Miles Donahue’s case, the concept bears out. It is a joy to follow his risky explorations, as he makes his way through a labyrinth of unexpected turns. More than simply Just Passing Thru, Donahue is staying a while, long enough to leave a permanent impression on today’s jazz landscape.