For an ensemble named Focus, Marc Cary’s trio sure does prefer a panoramic array of styles. The opening track on Four Directions, “Todi Blues,” is a burbling compound of classical Hindustani raga and Washington, D.C. go-go, with the tablas of Sameer Gupta and the acoustic bass of Rashaan Carter providing an earthen bottom while the electric bass of Burniss Earl Travis II and a variety of electric keyboards from Cary surge and swirl. Back to a proper trio (Carter is a second bassist on three of the 10 songs), Cary honors influential former employer Betty Carter with “Waltz Betty Waltz,” which bristles in 3/4 time with the improvisational bop sass that was Carter’s signature. Midway through the disc, “Boom” is a pianistic tour de force, with Cary moving through Monk, Tatum, Tyner, Powell and a pair of unlikely Lewises, Meade Lux and Jerry Lee, in relentless succession. Two songs later he’s plugged in for a faithful cover of “Spectrum,” written by John McLaughlin for the Tony Williams Lifetime.
Cary believes there is a spiritual unity to these disparate parts. The title of Four Directions is taken from a prayer by Chief Seattle, and Cary’s mission statement for Focus is “to bring indigenous rhythms together with American jazz to create new palettes of sound.” More tangibly, aside from a meandering group improvisation on the final song (“Outside My Window”) and a synth-drenched “prayer to the ancestors” (“Open Baby”), Four Directions is propelled by an anthemic ferocity. Whether playing acoustic or electric keys, Cary blends ample technique with aggressive purpose for an outing that is every bit as combustible as the band’s two previous live records. Its roving styles and textures may continue to keep Cary from getting the recognition he deserves. But open minds and hearts will be filled with strong music.