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Mark Whitfield (guitar), Davis Whitfield (piano), Mark Whitfield Jr. (drums), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), Sy Smith (vocals)
Street Date: January 24, 2017
Like father, like sons. Whitfield burst on the jazz scene with his critically acclaimed 1990 debut “The Marksman” for Warner Bros. Heralded then as “The Best Young Guitarist In the Business” by the New York Times, Whitfield stayed true to the sentiment with a fruitful career spanning over two decades and including tenures with a litany of jazz and pop music greats.
Following in the footsteps of their father, and their uncle (the great jazz drummer Troy Davis), Mark Jr. and Davis have established themselves as “ones to watch” on their respective instruments. Both “grew up on the bandstand” alongside their father and both picked up their instrument at a young age. “I was attached to him by the hip! Anytime I could be there, I’d be there. You know, in all those clubs where I wasn’t supposed to be as a five-year-old — I was there,” recalled Mark Jr. in an interview with Revive Music in 2013.
After sharing the stage on so many occasions, Mark brought his children into the studio along with “honorary Whitfield family member” bassist Yasushi Nakamura and guest vocalist Sy Smith to record “Grace”. “I wanted to share my love of music with sons, and use this love to forge a bond between the three of us that would enrich our lives, enlighten our consciousness and support us through the toughest of times,” says Mark. The result is “Grace”, a collection of nine personal compositions; each telling a unique story that chronicles the last two decades as a family.
“Grace” kicks off with the biographical “Afro Samurai”, inspired by Mark’s triage of young curiosities: music, skateboarding and “terrorizing all who dared to come near my garage with my less than stellar kung fu skills!” These three disciplines are represented by the three distinct solo sections. “Blue D.A”. which first appeared on Whitfield’s 1994 album “True Blue”, is reimagined here as a tribute to the late, great Kenny Kirkland, who can be heard on the original. The title track presents the first “extended family” collaboration with a special appearance by cousin Sy Smith. “I wrote a song as a reaction to the violence that has plagued our society for years and seems to have worsened severely in recent months and we turned to our cousin… composer, lyricist and songbird extraordinaire, Sy Smith, to bring it to life,” said Whitfield. “Double Trouble” serves as an homage to Mark’s mentor George Benson, who encouraged him to join the Jack McDuff Quartet and is inspired by a tour situation gone wrong.
Whitfield and co. slow things down for “Space Between Us”, a tender ballad where Whitfield’s playing resonates with every stroke, but picks us back up for “Fortress”, another call to Benson and a nod to contemporary Kevin Eubanks. “The 1st guitar record I ever owned was George Benson’s Breezin’. I wore the old vinyl LP down to the grooves learning every single note that the aforementioned Benson played,” said Mark, adding, “…then I made the boys listen to over & over so they could clearly understand the genius of the man they refer to as “Uncle George”!
The final third of “Grace” includes “Undiscovered”, a testament to self discovery. Says Mark, “As teacher, bandleader & composer I endeavor to create musical situations that promote the right environment for the group to discover new pathways to reach higher levels of self expression. If nothing else, Davis’ piano solo is the embodiment of that which I hoped to create!” The penultimate tune “The Socrates Curse” brews a perfect storm between Davis’ transformative solo and Mark Jr’s volcanic rhythmic explosion. ‘Grace’ reaches its conclusion with “Pulse Pt2”, an easy groove off into the sunset.
"Guitarist Whitfield has spent a lot of time in recent years playing a supporting role on the road, but it's easy to imagine his new band delighting festival crowds for a long time to come." Read full editor's pick review here.
"Sparky and energetic, the concert [at The Django] put everybody in a fantastic mood." Read full review here.
"Guitarist extraordinaire Mark Whitfield brings out the family for this gift of fire, melody and spirited technique and it truly is a family affair." Read full feature here.
"I knew I'd like this record from the snippets I heard prior to hearing the full album today and listening to bits of it just now restore my faith in modern mainstream jazz." Full review here.
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"With this strong release, Mark Whitfield is back on the jazz scene to stay."
"Guitarist Mark Whitfield was one of the Young Lions who revitalized the mainstream-modern jazz scene in the last decades of the 20th Century. Since then he has released 11 albums and appeared with a who’s who of jazz heavyweights." Read full feature here.
"The ‘family’ is perfectly connected in Grace, mixing the wisdom of experience with the irreverence of the youth. Synergy is their key for success and I'm sure Mark doesn't regret giving this opportunity to his gifted sons. Long live the family!" Full review here.
BE BOP SPOKEN HERE
"His sons do him proud. Davis has a probing style that seeks out the lost chord, the unusual inversion whilst Mark demonstrates all he learned from sitting at his father’s side on stage. Described as an honorary Whitfield, Nakamura plays the part well with basslines that don’t contradict. Sy Smith sings the title track – she does it good." Full review here.
"There’s a smooth-R&B texture to the song, but Whitfield brings his usual boppish flair to his solo, making sure that it all feels right." Feature here.
"The group’s debut recording, Grace, on Whitfield’s Marksman Productions label, is an eclectic affair with material that ranges from uptempo burners like Double Trouble and The Socrates Curse to the relaxed and shuffling Blue D.A. to the graceful ballad Space Between Us and the funky Fortress." Read the full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Blue D.A." is another fine example of the group's synergy, and it's an excellent blues-based track that swings fiercely, allowing plenty of room for solos that are stimulating and engaging." Read the full review here.