It's an impressive roster by any standards.
Mack Avenue Records may not have reached the standards of legendary jazz labels such as Blue Note or Verve (who can, in this economy?), but the Detroit label continues to produce recordings by statesmen Gary Burton, Gerald Wilson and Kenny Garrett, monster bassist Christian McBride, Kevin Eubanks and younger musicians such as Aaron Diehl, Warren Wolf, C©cile McLorin Salvant and Sachal Vasandani.
And it all started with a jazz lover with deep pockets and an eye for a business opportunity.
Carhartt clothing manufacturer chairwoman Gretchen Valade started the label in 1999 with fellow Detroit businessman Tom Robinson. It has added smooth jazz and blues imprints, as well as Detroit Music Factory, focusing on Detroit musicians.
Mack Avenue also is a major sponsor of the Detroit Jazz Festival, which Valade saved with a US$15-million donation in 2006.
While Valade's focus has a strong connection to her native Detroit -- "Founding a jazz label and later sustaining an important festival is my way of adding to the already vibrant and storied jazz tradition here in Detroit," she has said -- her Mack Avenue label has recorded a host of great musicians from all over and spread their music.
Bassist McBride is almost a poster boy for the label with five discs -- his most recent, a trio recording, two with his Inside Straight quintet, a big band outing and Conversations With Christian, reprising duets he did with various musicians on a Los Angeles radio show. (Four of those discs have been reviewed in the Free Press)
Vibraphonist Burton, longtime musician, bandleader, teacher and jazz statesman, recently released his second CD on Mack, Guided Tour by the New Gary Burton Quartet, a band that illustrates the bridge between veteran and newcomer, much like Mack's roster.
That band and the CDs feature the great young guitarist Julian Lage, 45 years Burton's junior but a musician who fits in with the boss, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Lage contributes three compositions to the recording.
It is a great disc by the risk-taking but rarely less than perfect Burton, with his supple swing on Jane Fonda Called Again, and the demanding interplay between the vibraphonist and guitarist on Lage's tune, Sunday's Uncle.
This is a band of great players that has hit a groove on two discs and promises much more to come. Winnipeg fans may remember the band's performance at the 2011 Winnipeg International Jazz Festival.
Vibraphonist Wolf's new disc is Wolfgang and he shows a more melodic side than on his self-titled Mack debut.
Wolf's blues influences come through, especially on Frankie and Johnny, which benefits from McBride's romping bass. The disc's lineup features two different three-man rhythm sections (pianist Benny Green, McBride and drummer Lewis Nash; and pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Kris Funn and drummer Billy Williams, Jr.), as well as two duo pieces with pianist and labelmate Aaron Diehl.
Wolf and Diehl draw on their classical influences on Wolfgang (a nod to Mozart) and Le Carnival de Venise.
Wolfgang shows a maturing artist who easily swings from blues to classical.
Alto saxophonist Garrett pays tribute to a number of his friends and influences, including Chick Corea (Hey, Chick), Chucho Vald©s (Chucho's Mambo) and Sonny Rollins (J'Ouvert), on his third Mack disc, Pushing the World Away.
The most poignant nod is to pianist Mulgrew Miller, who died on May 29, in the opener A Side Order Of Hijiki. It refers to a word Miller used to describe Garrett's playing style and is a flat-out burner.
Eleven of the 12 tunes are Garrett compositions -- the other is a lyrical take on the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song I Say a Little Prayer.
Last year's Seeds From the Underground got two Grammy nominations and the band's time on the road promoting that recording gives this disc a "live" feel.
Mack Avenue's roster also includes guitarist Stanley Jordan, trumpeter Sean Jones, Hot Club of Detroit, saxophonist Tia Fuller and pianist Danilo P©rez, to name just a few.