I’m thrilled that a this Saturday (5/4/24) I’ll get to perform with Mike McGinnis at Resonant Motion’s Jazz Up Close series, our second time playing together (the first coming in 2006, I think) and the first chance I’ll get to play his own evocative music. I’ve been a fan of his work as a composer and a woodwind virtuoso for quite a while now, and here are a few of my personal favorites from his discography, listed here in chronological order. 

1 ) “Tent Song” from live at barbes by The Four Bags (2006)

My Four Bags (an irreverent ensemble of guitar, trombone, and accordion in addition to Mike’s reeds) fandom dates back to their debut record in the late 1990s. This album sort of represents a quintessential Brooklyn experience, recorded at a revered venue there, and it opens with this fun McGinnis composition featuring his gorgeous soprano saxophone. 

2 ) “The Teachings of Ptah Hotep” from Ancestral Devotion by Lonnie Plaxico (2008)

While known for his work as a bassist in Art Blakey’s band and multiple M-Base centered ensembles, Lonnie Plaxico’s work as a bandleading features his own distinctively tricky and funky compositions. This record is no exception, and hearing Mike burn on tenor saxophone on this roaring track is a particular highlight.

3 ) “Incandescence” from Hush Money by Erik Deutsch(2009)

Keyboardist Deutsch explores a wide variety of textures on this record ranging from jazz to Steely Dan-esque pop-rock, and this catchy, pop-meets-jazz instrumental ballad heavily features Mike’s soulful clarinet work.  

4 ) “The Floating World” from Woodblock Prints by Harris Eisenstadt(2010)

This jazz chamber group led by drummer/composer Eisenstadt features an array of great low brass and woodwind players, and on this lengthy, borderline-epic composition, Mike’s snaky clarinet solo takes center stage alongside Jay Rozen’s tuba and Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon.   

5 ) “Year of the Snake” from Tusk by Sean Moran Small Elephant Band(2011)

The use of bass clarinet to evoke archetypal images of a snake are so trite that I hesitate to even suggest that to have been intentional here, but boy does Mike create a mood here with his playing. Guitarist Moran creates an appropriately sinister vibe on this tune, also featuring his own nylon string guitar, Chris Dingman’s vibes. 

6 ) “Ocelot” from Corduroy by David Ullmann 8(2014)

While there are many examples of Mike crushing it on bass clarinet, this funky yet mysterious performance is one of the most exciting. Trumpeter Kirk Knuffke is also featured, as is frequent McGinnis collaborator (and fellow Four Bags member), the brilliant Brian Drye on trombone. 

7 ) “Hearth” from Recurring Dream (2016)

Mike’s two trio albums with pianist Art Lande and bassist Steve Swallow are on par with any post-Giuffre trios in that vein (i.e. a highly-interactive union of a wind instrument, a chordal instrument, and a bass). It’s difficult to pick out favorites, but I am always particularly moved by this slow waltz Mike composed for his wife, dancer/choreographer Davalois Fearon.   

8 ) “Beau Nivea” from Singular Awakening (2016)

The follow-up to Recurring Dream, this album with the same McGinnis/Lande/Swallow trio heavily features fully improvised trio pieces. They evoke a wide variety of moods, and this playful, bass-driven performance is just one among those that is so well-constructed that it provides an object lesson in debunking the notion of more improvisation equaling less organization.

9 ) “Get in the Car” from Time is Thicker (2019)

Recorded with drummer Vinnie Sperrazza (who introduced me to Mike nearly 20 years ago) and bassist Elias Bailey, this trio record is also full of cohesive group improvisations like this shape-shifter that starts off swinging hard before getting ebulliently funky.

10 ) “The Gospel of Bone Drye” from Outing – Road*Trip II (2023)

I was hesitant to include something that doesn’t feature Mike as a player, but his writing for his “+9” ensemble is such a force of nature. If you can listen to this uplifting, soulful, and clever track (both featuring and paying homage to trombonist Drye) without grinning then I’m impressed.


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