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Marc Cary: Deconstructing the Tough

Pianist, composer and bandleader sits down for listening session with JazzTimes' Larry Appelbaum during Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival

Marc Cary
Marc Cary

Pianist, composer and bandleader Marc Cary emerged from the Washington D.C. go-go scene but cut his teeth with Dizzy Gillespie, Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln, Arthur Taylor and other jazz veterans. He’s since established his own identity as a leader mixing straightahead sounds with East Indian, West African and hip-hop flavors. Cary sat for this B&A session following his set at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival last winter. His latest recording is Focus Trio Live 2009 (Motéma).

1. Abdullah Ibrahim

“Green Kalahari” (from Bombella, Sunnyside). Ibrahim, piano. Recorded in 2008.

BEFORE: I’ve never heard this before, but it’s a very familiar sound. Whoever this is is a very thoughtful person. They care about sound. It reminds me of some people I like. The tension in the beginning reminds me of Moses Molelekwa. Geri Allen also comes to mind. I can hear years of classical training and an understanding of dynamics. It reminds me of something from the Romantic period. I have a great appreciation for anyone who wants to play the instrument and is good at it. This is somebody who respects the instrument and respects music.

AFTER: See, South Africa. It’s something about the sound: Hotep Galeta, Moses Molelekwa, Abdullah, Bheki Mseleku, they all have that same sound. And Geri has a touch of that too on her solo stuff. I like most of Abdullah’s stuff. I love his solo records. I used to see him at Sweet Basil. He’s kind of mystical with a very strong energy that radiated from him. I would see Kirk Lightsey and Walter Davis Jr. at those sets. I’d see Cecil Taylor in there. So Abdullah has a sound that I relate to.

2. Vijay Iyer Trio

“Galang (Trio Riot Version)” (from Historicity, ACT). Iyer, piano; Stephan Crump, bass; Marcus Gilmore, drums. Recorded in 2009.

BEFORE: Is this Vijay? I love his stuff and I like Vijay [laughs]. You know, it’s funny: Once I hear someone I can store their sound in my memory. There’s an imprint that happens in my mind. He has a very specific touch. It’s a kind of bell tone. And I could tell that he’s coming from a different influence. For example, the beat that he chose to come in on is not based off swing. It’s based on understanding a meter. He has a unique sound. Plus, I just saw him about six weeks ago in Europe. I sat and watched one of his whole sets and he played this [laughs]. I like it.

AFTER: That’s the other thing. Marcus gave it away. It reminded me of Max Roach at first. It’s the intention behind the rhythm. You know, that just sounds like something Marcus would do. I love this trio. I’d love to have that record.

3. Duke Ellington

“REM Blues” (from Money Jungle, Blue Note). Ellington, piano; Charles Mingus, bass; Max Roach, drums. Recorded in 1962.

BEFORE: [sings along] Duke. Money Jungle. I know the song and the solos and everything. This record inspired me when I made my first trio record. I love this-the looseness of it and the trust. You can hear the chances they were taking. Seemed like Duke just dug right through it. Nothing affected him. He’s vast and he heard the possibilities of the piano. I love his stride playing. I love those old black and white movies where you can see him digging in. I love the journey he took. He was continuously searching.

Your favorite Ellington record?

“Tulip or Turnip” with Ray Nance [sings the lyric]. My dad had the 78 of that. He had thousands of records but it took me a long time to get the approval to go through them. But I would do it anyway. I was blessed to have access to his collection, and to his stereo. He had a tube stereo and it took about 10 minutes to warm the thing up. And I had to turn it off in time so that it would cool down before he got home.

4. Ahmad Jamal

“I Hear a Rhapsody” (from A Quiet Time, Dreyfus). Jamal, piano; James Cammack, bass; Kenny Washington, drums. Recorded in 2009.

BEFORE: Reminds me of Shirley Horn for a minute. Chris Anderson? It’s very tasty. I love it. It’s not John Hicks, is it? Yeah, it’s beautiful, very lyrical. I was expecting a vocalist to come in. This pianist knows the song. It’s a cross between Erroll Garner and Shirley Horn, with that touch. It’s not a bebop pianist, at least not in this performance. The touch is very watery, liquid, open.

AFTER: It makes a lot of sense now. He covers so much territory, man. Is this his new record? I love Ahmad Jamal. I like the way he deals with his band. He conducts the band with cues [demonstrates visual cues], and the band is focused on him. It’s dramatic to see him. He came to my show at the [Association of Performing Arts Presenters] convention last year. That’s the first time I really talked to him. It made me really play.

5. Esperanza Spalding

“Precious” (from Esperanza, Heads Up). Spalding, vocals, bass; Leo Genovese, piano; Otis Brown, drums and background vocals. Released in 2008.

BEFORE: That’s Terreon Gully on drums. That’s not Terreon? Is this Esperanza? It’s the bass. When I put the voice and the bass together, it’s the same energy. And I know the quality of her voice. That made me very joyful when you played that. She’s an incredible bass player. I’ve never played with her but I’ve watched her play with Joe Lovano and I became a fan. I love her presence and the sound that she gets and the command of the instrument and her confidence. I’m glad to see her career is moving forward.

The rest of this article appears in the October 2010 issue of JazzTimes.

Originally Published