[8 February 2011]
A Washington, D.C. native who has become a major New York jazz pianist, Marc Cary has more than a little in common with Duke Ellington. Cary—with a background that includes accompanying the likes of Betty Carter, Abby Lincoln, and Roy Hargrove—thinks orchestrally. His excellent Focus Trio (with David Ewell on bass and drummer Sameer Gupta) creates a complete landscape for every one of these live performances, transforming what might be mere standard jazz into drama. Known tunes such as “Round Midnight”, “Just in Time”, and “Minor March” are rediscoveries here. Monk’s classic takes on a sprawling modal groove, with Fender Rhodes piano fleshing out its midsection, and the Comden-Green-Styne standard develop jagged, flying elbows. Cary’s originals are compelling too. His ballads, such as “Twilight”, ring with striking nobility, and his more experimental material is worthy of Jason Moran or Matthew Shipp. On “Slow Blues for MLK”, Cary incorporates a recording of Dr. King’s voice into the performance, and “CD Changer” lurches with a popping energy, morphing over time into crashing improvisation then ending in a sudden whisper. Cary certain belongs among the elite pianists of the new jazz century. His best recording, however, lies ahead of him.