Jazz CD Reviews
Marc Cary – Focus Trio: Live 2009 – Motéma
Published on May 26, 2010
Marc Cary – Focus Trio: Live 2009 – Motéma MTM-33, 70:06 ***1/2:
(Marc Cary – piano, MIDI keyboards, co-producer, mixer, mastering; David Ewell – bass; Sameer Gupta – drums, tabla (track 6), co-producer)
The best jazz artists think of jazz as a two-part communication. Some people learn from jazz and that’s the limit of their interaction. But musicians like pianist Marc Cary bring art into jazz instead of relying on what jazz can give them. Starting in the early 1990s – when he arrived in New York City to join the Big Apple jazz scene – Cary has explored bop, rhythm and blues, gospel, electronic grooves and indigenous world music. During his career he has developed from sideman to collaborator with Roy Hargrove, Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln and more and eventually to band leader.
Cary’s new release, Focus Trio: Live 2009, is a return to a mostly acoustic setting and is a follow-up to the Focus Trio’s digital only 2008 concert album and the group’s 2006 self-titled studio debut. This 11-track, 70-minute jaunt is a mix of standards and originals (seven by Cary and/or other trio members) as well as music that progresses from thoughtful ballads to up-tempo material and tunes that jump from Indian-inspired patterns to contemporary dance influences. Cary fans should note that only one cut – Jackie McLean’s “Minor March” – has been previously delivered by the trio.
Cary, bassist David Ewell and drummer/percussionist Sameer Gupta start with a novel handling of Thelonious Monk’s frequently covered “‘Round Midnight.” Ewell and Cary begin the silhouetted arrangement in a bass-piano duet before Gupta enters and in due time the threesome build to a modal moodiness battened by Cary’s harmonic chords, Gupta’s buffet of drum rolls and Ewell’s pressurized bass runs. Near the end Cary displays a touch of McCoy Tyner, whose spirit is felt more strongly on Cary’s “Twilight,” which commences as an unhurried ballad but escalates to an accelerated movement highlighted by Cary’s fertile keyboard solos that show improvisational density and dashes of vitality.
An upbeat and dynamic rhythmic attack is fostered during Cary’s frenetic “Runnin’ Out of Time,” a solidly swinging affair accented by Gupta’s confident drumming and Cary’s breakneck keyboard adornments. It is difficult to imagine that Cary and his compatriots could get even more turbulent but they do just that on a hard and fast rendition of “Minor March” that heats up with furious fervor.
One of the most fascinating interpretative moments is “KC Bismillah Khan,” based on a traditional raga often associated with Indian music legend Bismillah Khan. For the first three minutes Gupta’s mantra-like tabla work is underscored by Cary’s MIDI electronics and Ewell’s bass: then Cary brings in piano and the tune veers into a steadfast jazz design. The Focus Trio finish with the multi-composition mélange, “CD Changer,” an elaborate piece that employs many short themes, acoustic and amplified keyboards and a thoroughly animated, fusion-oriented demeanor. This concentrated venture has a lot going on and accommodates many elements, but listeners’ close focus will prove well worth the effort.
Meanwhile, Cary is preparing enough projects to keep a dozen artists busy, including a new studio undertaking, a digital series that will feature a single a month intended to exhibit Cary’s myriad musical interests and he also plans to issue an Indian music recording.
1. ‘Round Midnight
4. Runnin’ Out of Time
5. Slow Blues for MLK
6. KC_Bismillah Khan
7. Minor March
8. My Love Is You
9. Just In Time
10. In Between Appointments
11. CD Changer
– Doug Simpson