Mark Whitfield: guitar; Davis Whitfield: piano; Yasushi Nakamura: bass; Mark Whitfield Jr.: drums.
Mercurial guitarist Mark Whitfield got the jazz world’s attention during the 90’s, when the NY Times considered him ‘The Best Young Guitarist in the Business’. Despite speaking a vocabulary of his own, his style is still influenced by his mentor George Benson, the one who recommended him to the organist Jack McDuff.
Mark not only has collaborated with jazz legends such as Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, and Jimmy Smith, but also with recent stars like Sting, Chris Botti, Diana Krall, and Roy Hargrove.
After sharing the stage so many times with his two sons (Berklee graduates just like their father), Mark decided to record his new album, Grace, with them. The Japanese bassist Yasushi Nakamura, who won the title ‘honorary Whitfield family member’ from the patriarch, joins the pianist Davis Whitfield and the drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. The brothers' names were announced for trumpeter Freddie Hendrix's upcoming concerts.
Comprising only originals, the recording kicks in with the straight-ahead “Afro Samurai”, a fusion cocktail made of funk, R&B and jazz. If Mark shows rapid reflexes, Davis exceeds all the expectations with an excitingly groovy solo.
All the spirit of the blues is put in the 32 bars of “Blues D.A.”. While Mark configures the theme, Davis and Nakamura improvise emotion.
Marks’s guest, Sy Smith, offers her vocal skills in the title track, a pure contemporary R&B creation with polyrhythmic feel. Despite the sugary taste, it was “Double Trouble” that satisfied me most through its props and embellishments flying over a swinging bass line. Here, the impulsive drumming of Mark Jr. becomes unstoppable, even during Mark’s brisk improvisation. At the minute five, a change of mood takes effect and a modal approach is put in practice before the final step.
Momentarily suspending the high impetus, “Space Between Us”, a slow-moving waltz is laid down. The band then plunges into a gripping crossover jazz with “Fortress”, where the joyous tones are directly connected with the addition of well-designed funk-rock elements. The beautiful, rich melodies are superimposed to the hot rhythms in a multi-colored celebration of past and present.
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!
01 – Afro Samurai ► 04 – Double Trouble ► 06 – Fortress