Award-winning jazz educator Earl MacDonald rearranges the concept of a jazz quartet. Where one normally would have piano, drums, bass and another instrument, MacDonald’s ensemble deviates slightly for Mirror of the Mind (Death Defying Records, 2013).

MacDonald plays piano. He is accompanied by the Creative Opportunities Workshop: Kris Allen, saxophones; Christopher Hoffman, cello; and Rogerio Broccato, percussion.

The title song opens the set. It starts with soft piano, cello and light cymbals. Then, the groove kicks in with the full quartet. Allen leads. The mood is bright and charming. With MacDonald and Boccato mixing it up in the background, the saxophone continues to point the way. Meanwhile, Hoffman plays the cello at times like a rhythm guitar, but later plucks the strings like a piccolo bass.

After a lively rendition of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” the quartet comes back with the delightful “Bidwell Cronies.” A brief, playful walk-in-the-park piece that includes several pauses – perhaps to watch the children play or admire the flowers.

MacDonald is director of jazz studies at the University of Connecticut. He was formerly pianist and musical director for Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau Band. MacDonald’s Re:Visions – Works for Jazz Orchestra received a 2011 Canadian Juno Award nomination for “traditional jazz album of the year.” Among other distinctions, MacDonald has won the Sammy Nestico Award for big band arranging, and the jazz song category of the 2011 Independent Music Awards.

Mirror of the Mind accomplishes two things. It reaffirms the concept of thinking outside the box, particularly with use of the cello. And it demonstrates MacDonald’s progression as a composer, delivering music that shifts easily from mellow listening to engaged activity to something abstract.