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The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble: Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland

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There is a coterie of devoted people working to make sure Gary McFarland is not forgotten. It includes family, friends, musicians, colleagues and film director Kristian St. Clair, whose documentary This Is Gary McFarland became available for purchase late last year. In the DVD package is a CD with a previously unissued McFarland gig from 1965. Now there is Circulation, with 11 new interpretations of McFarland tunes. The band is vibraphonist Joe Locke, saxophonist Sharel Cassity, pianist Bruce Barth (who did the arrangements), bassist Mike Lawrence and drummer Michael Benedict (who was married to McFarland’s late widow, Gail).

McFarland was a gifted composer-arranger who died in 1971, at age 38. From a career of only 10 years, he left behind a portfolio of songs unique in their cool melodic grace. “One I Could Have Loved” makes you wonder why his best pieces haven’t become standards. Like all great ballads, it sounds preordained. It might have fallen, fully formed, from the sky. It is quintessential McFarland, a bittersweet alchemy of hope and melancholy. Barth’s fresh arrangement pieces it out so patiently. Cassity, on alto saxophone, releases it in gentle waves.

All ballads are in good hands with Locke. He does “Last Rites for the Promised Land” alone, soulfully, in lush two-mallet swirls and sweeps, extended by vibrato. McFarland’s notes linger forever in the air.

There are also very early compositions like the fast “Notions” and the slow “Summer Day.” They already possess a certain off-hand elegance that identifies their origins. Blues were not really McFarland’s thing, but “Why Are You Blue” and “Blue Hodge” are perfectly suave and erotic. Both were originally recorded by Johnny Hodges. Cassity holds her own, no mean trick for an alto player.

Originally Published