The October Suite, recorded in 1966, is one of two Gary McFarland chamber music masterworks featuring brilliant pianists. It followed by nearly four years The Gary McFarland Orchestra, Special Guest Soloist: Bill Evans (Verve). In each case, McFarland used economy of instruments and of compositional means to create expansive music that illuminates far beyond the size of the ensemble and the deceptive simplicity of his writing. Three of The October Suite's sections employ a string quartet, the second three a woodwind quartet and a harp. McFarland's settings, rich in beauty and daring, stimulated pianist Steve Kuhn to some of his most incandescent and imaginative playing of the '60s. Bassist Ron Carter and drummer Marty Morell supported him.
McFarland's legacy as a composer and arranger is sadly overlooked. His stunning accomplishments during his one busy decade ended with his death in 1971 at the age of 38. Many of McFarland's albums are unavailable except as used LPs. Kuhn's neglect is equally perplexing and less easily explained, since he is playing at the highest level of his career. Perhaps the long overdue reissue of The October Suite will help bring Kuhn the attention he has long deserved and continues to earn.
The McFarland-Bill Evans collaboration is on CD as a part of Verve's massive Evans boxed set, but it has never been reissued on its own. We may hope that Verve will reach into its vaults for more of the riches in McFarland's discography on the Verve and Impulse labels.