In the world of contemporary jazz, it doesn’t get any simpler than the Coachella Valley Trio and its new release, Mid Century Modern. Guitarist Doug MacDonald has joined with drummer Tim Pleasant and bassist Larry Holloway strive to capture the laid-back vibe of the Coachella Valley–or, more accurately, the Palm Springs jazz scene–with a stripped down trio sound that’s easy on the ears. On the surface, Mid Century Modern isn’t breaking new ground with this collection of covers and originals, but careful listening reveals three seasoned vets who know how to play as one.
MacDonald describes the synergy this way: “In 2016, we began playing a steady Wednesday night gig at AJ’s On the Green, in Cathedral City. The trio really clicked–we found we had a close rhythmic connection.” Sometimes that’s what makes simple and elegant jazz make the leap into greatness, an astute sense of time and place. I’ve spent considerable time in Palm Springs over the years, and it’s a unique place. You’re in the middle of the desert, a very picturesque corner of the desert surrounded by mountains and affluence and some of the best golf in the world. If you’re living in Palm Springs and its environs, you’re probably living the good life. At the end of a hot day, it’s time for cocktails and great music played in a wonderful, cozy nightclub.
That doesn’t mean the Coachella Valley Trio isn’t serious or complex. While MacDonald’s brilliant jazz electric guitar can sound like a lot of other jazz electric guitars at times, it’s the quiet reserve that reveals just how gifted he really is. He’s quick yet easy, and he paints the kind of rose-colored hues that remind you of Palm Springs and its sense of fun amid the beauty. Mid Century Modern is also distinguished by Pleasant’s unique style–he’s fond of his cymbals and hi-hats and can really extract a clean, shimmering sound. Added depth is also provided by the fingertips of special guest Big Black, who plays the djembe.
These days I find that I’m looking for the unusual when it comes to jazz, something interesting that I can discuss with fellow music fans. The Coachella Valley Trio isn’t doing a lot beyond excelling, but that synergy is something to behold, something to talk about. There’s a fluid feel to each one of these eleven tracks, and there isn’t a moment where these three musicians aren’t the proverbial well-oiled machine. It doesn’t all have to be groundbreaking…occasionally it’s a gift just to hear well-played jazz accompanied by a wonderful view right of a world-class golf course.