Ralph MacDonald

The Complete Marlin Recordings

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The Complete Marlin Recordings assembles the entirety of percussion virtuoso Ralph MacDonald's two LPs for the Marlin label, a subsidiary of the Miami-based disco imprint TK Records. After a long stint in support of Harry Belafonte, session great MacDonald finally made his solo debut with 1976's Sound of a Drum, which successfully marries the prominent Latin flavor of his previous work with new-school funk and disco sounds. The title is no misnomer -- each song is a showcase for MacDonald's blistering percussion talents, but he never loses the humility and instincts of a sideman, allowing an expert cast including Grover Washington, Jr., Bob James, and Toots Thielemans their own turns in the spotlight as well. The eight-minute "Calypso Breakdown" is by far the best-known cut here thanks to its inclusion on the mega-selling Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. It remains a monster groove that's dated much better than many disco-era instrumentals, thanks in large part to William Eaton's clever, jazz-inspired arrangement and Eric Gale's ferocious guitar solo. Though lesser known, The Path remains MacDonald's most ambitious and successful solo record. Its 18-minute title cut is a mind-boggling journey charting the progression of African-American music from its roots in tribal drumming through evolutions from blues to jazz to funk. MacDonald creates a virtual primer in percussion, navigating the twists and turns of his musical narrative with stunning precision.

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