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Chris McCarthy: Still Time to Quit (Ropeadope)

A review of the pianist's debut album

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Chris McCarthy, Still Time to Quit
The cover of Still Time to Quit by Chris McCarthy

A rising star on the New York scene, pianist Chris McCarthy has made his name playing and/or recording with trumpeter Jason Palmer, saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, bassist Ben Allison, vibraphonist Sasha Berliner, and singer Clotilde Rullaud, among others. His scintillating solo debut is a provocative collection of smartly arranged, acoustic postbop-and-beyond originals built around a band of top-shelf equals, veterans as well as rising stars: trumpeter Takuya Kuroda, tenor saxophonist/flutist Michael Blake, bassist Sam Minaie, and drummer JK Kim. (Nobody could have predicted that the album’s self-deprecating title would inadvertently reflect a real-life thought that’s probably crossed the minds of more than a few musicians reeling from pandemic-driven performance shutdowns.)

The two-minute “That’s All You Get” kicks off the proceedings with a bit of call-and-response between the pianist and his bandmates, a start-stop theme, and McCarthy’s audacious solo over urgent rhythms. It makes a nice warmup before the modified funk groove, catchy head, and rambunctious improvising of Kuroda (a regular scene-stealer here) and Blake on “Ready, Steady, Here You Go!” “Shockingly Effective” benefits from some Monk-ish repeating lines and unexpected twists.

The group also offers laidback tracks like the bluesy “Toasty,” with trumpet leading first and then both horns in unison; “Happy Tired,” its creep-crawling lines initially played on tenor and bass, backed only by piano, then trumpet and bass; and the chugging closer “Bury Me in Times Square (Underneath the M&M Store).” Rapper Noname’s “Diddy Bop” inspired the bouncy “Valedictorian Driver,” another showcase for Kuroda. And the free-floating “The Nightmares,” the set’s sole experimental piece, is sparked by strummed bass, wandering piano and flute lines, rumbling drums, and effects-laden trumpet statements. For someone with McCarthy’s talents, quitting is not an option.

Preview, buy or download Still Time to Quit on Amazon!

Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. Sharkskin, the second album from his long-running band, Acme Jazz Garage, has aired on radio stations across the U.S.