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Music Review

Mack Avenue SuperBand wows at Berklee

The Mack Avenue SuperBand in concert Thursday at the Berklee Performance Center
The Mack Avenue SuperBand in concert Thursday at the Berklee Performance CenterRobert Torres

The Mack Avenue SuperBand came to Berklee Performance Center Thursday night, courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston, and put on a show that wowed the audience with cordial excellence rather than an old-fashioned cutting contest.

Onstage were bassist and NPR “Jazz Night in America” host Christian McBride’s superb trio with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Carl Allen, augmented by three of their label mates with strong ties to Berklee: saxophonist (and professor) Tia Fuller, trumpeter (and brass department chair) Sean Jones, and vibraphonist (and retired Berklee vice president) Gary Burton. They were promoting the latest in the Michigan-based record label’s series of live albums from the Detroit Jazz Festival, and six of the eight tunes they played came from that mid-January release.


They opened, as does the new album, with Kirk Whalum’s earthy tribute to the late Hank Crawford, “Preach Hank!” All-star bands, unlike all-star sports teams, tend to inspire their members to exert themselves, and Jones was clearly in such a mood when his turn to solo arrived, his effort provoking especially vigorous applause when it was through — and perhaps prompting his bandmates to ramp up their games to match his.

The bulk of the set consisted of a composition apiece by each musician. Fuller’s challenging “Decisive Steps,” she said, is a distillation of what she always advises students about “moving forward in faith and not fear,” and she practiced what she preaches on her roaring alto solo. McBride’s “Paint Brushes” came next, Burton supplying an intro and the bassist wrapping up the soloing with one of his own. Jones’s “Gretchen” was written as Christmas approached, for Mack Avenue founder Gretchen Valade, and he joked that “Contrary to popular belief, trumpet players can write pretty songs” — his lovely waltz proving the point, greatly aided by his own gorgeous flugelhorn solo.


Carl Allen’s “The Sacrifice” celebrated the masters that had come before them (including newly named NEA Jazz Master Burton) and opened with Allen’s mesmerizing unaccompanied drums. Burton’s newest piece was less nostalgic, “Don’t Look Back” opening, as Burton said, “with an intro from our brilliant pianist, Christian Sands.” When Sands soloed on his own contribution, “Up,” the 26-year-old may very well have outdone his elders with the most dazzling solo of the night.

An encore on Makoto Ozone’s slow blues “The Test of Time” featured all save Allen getting solos to demonstrate their utter mastery of the form, McBride choosing to bow his. Super band, indeed.

Music review

Mack Avenue SuperBand

Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. At Berklee Performance Center, Thursday

Bill Beuttler can be reached at bill@billbeuttler.com.