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.