Marc Cary says his Focus trio seeks “a collaboration of three cultures.” On the trio’s debut, pianist and composer Cary draws on his Native American roots, bassist David Ewell takes bracing harmonic angles on the material that are inspired by traditional Chinese music, and Sameer Gupta mixes in rhythms from Indian classical music on his drums and tablas. The combination can be potent and surprising, as on “Walk With Me,” in which Cary plays clouds of ostinatos while Ewell stabs at the texture with repeated notes and Gupta subtly tweaks Cary’s rhythms. Throw in the ability to swing really hard, as in a wild take on Jackie McLean’s “Appointment in Ghana,” and you’ve got some memorable moments.
But too often, the players throw around vast quantities of notes that numb the listener to actual musical incident (although when they pull back a bit on “Taiwa,” a Gupta-penned elegy for a slain South African musician, the results are lovely). In addition, Cary handles 99 percent of the soloing, and he sometimes doesn’t know when to quit: “Voyage to the Inside,” for example, has an arresting four-chord motive that simply can’t sustain a 10-minute track. The trio’s future could be bright if it can pare back its excesses and play with a little more, uh, focus.