Marc Cary has spent close to a decade honing a distinctive sound and improvisational approach with his enduring and much acclaimed Focus Trio. Four Directions, the band's first studio recording in eight years, follows on the heels of two powerful interim releases (Focus Trio Live 2008 and Focus Trio Live 2009). Despite a few shifts in the bass chair, and an ever-transforming array of acoustic and electronic instrumentation, the band's original mission, as Cary stated in his liner notes for Focus, the band's 2006 debut, remains the same: "to bring indigenous rhythms together with American jazz to create new palettes of sound."
On Four Directions, Cary once again leads the boundlessly creative Sameer Gupta on drums and percussion with two new recruits: Burniss Travis and Rashaan Carter sharing the bass chair, on some tracks alone and on some together. "Rashaan and I are both from DC," Cary says, "and his father [tenor saxophonist Russell Carter] gave me my first gig. I wanted both him and Burniss to be represented on the record because they've both been playing with the group at different times."
From the precise melodic hits and surging swing of "Ready or Not" to the pervasively unsettled "Outside My Window," Cary devotes Four Directions in part to an acoustic aesthetic - while also exploring a full range between organic and electronic sounds. This multi-dimensional approach has always been a foundational hallmark of Cary's musical identity.
Cary and Gupta are committed students of traditional Indian music but they always bring their own sensibilities to bear. Namaskar, Gupta's 2010 Motéma release (also featuring Carter on bass), was co-produced by Cary and featured a diverse cadre of highly celebrated musicians, combining jazz with North and South Indian ragas and well-known Bollywood themes.
Cary's originals include the ethereal, drone-based "Open Please" (which Cary calls "a prayer to the ancestors - open our minds, our hearts"), and "Waltz Betty Waltz," dedicated to the legendary Betty Carter, one of Cary's pivotal mentors. "She used to swing," Cary marvels. "She used to love waltzes and she used to kill it. I wanted to do something that was tasty and fitting for her."
Of the synth and keyboard-driven numbers, "Todi Blues" stands out for its unique blend of Indian classical concepts and go-go rhythms. Based on the traditional Todi raga, the piece is divided between an alap, or solo introduction, and a rhythmic template for improvisation, or tala. Cary solos on synth and Rhodes, trading between the two in a way that evokes "East meets West," he explains: "The Rhodes is kind of the Western assimilation into raga, and the synth is taking the place of the voice, or voice-like instrument, in Indian classical music."
"Tanktified," a Terreon Gully composition that Cary recorded with Stefon Harris's Blackout group on the GRAMMY® Award-nominated Urbanus, moves between 7/8 and 17/16 and comes under further expansion with Gupta's turbulent drum solo. "Spectrum," by Tony Williams' Lifetime, is straightforward trio with Cary on Rhodes: "Having played it with Cindy Blackman, Will Calhoun and others, I had the opportunity to approach that song in different ways, with added rhythm changes."
In addition to piano, Cary plays the Access Virus TI2 and Novation UltraNova synthesizers, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer and organ, creating a sonic environment that reflects his limitless musical interests - from jazz to go-go, hip-hop, electronic music, Indian classical music and more. "There's nothing blocking any music coming out of us," Cary insists. "It's like, melanin is a superconductor, you know? That's how it's coming out of our fingers and our minds."
Cary was born in New York in January 1967, grew up in DC and went on to become an important figure in the city's burgeoning go-go scene. He attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and upon relocating to New York in 1988, began his rise as a jazz piano modernist. In 1994 he began a life-changing 12-year tenure with vocalist, songwriter and jazz icon Abbey Lincoln. (For the Love of Abbey, Cary's spellbinding solo piano tribute to Lincoln, came out in May of 2013 on Motéma.)
In addition to Lincoln, Cary has worked with such masters as Arthur Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and Shirley Horn. His talent has elevated the music of everyone from Russell Gunn and Marcus Printup to Q-Tip, Meshell Ndegeocello and Ani DiFranco and as a recording artist his ensemble work has helped earn GRAMMY® Award-nominations for albums by Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, Roy Hargrove and Stefon Harris.
Cary debuted on the Arabesque label as a leader in 1995 with Cary On. Then at the turn of the century, his electronica odyssey, Rhodes Ahead (Vol. 1) won him the first annual Billboard/BET "Best New Jazz Artist" award in 2000. Cary debuted his fledgling Focus Trio project on the Motéma label in 2006, with an eponymous release which received major critical and public acclaim that led to increased international touring and a multi-record commitment from Motéma.
In addition to his long-standing Focus Trio, Cary also has toured and recorded regularly with his band Indigenous People since 1999. Cary's 'Indigenous' project specifically mines the rich musical history of indigenous cultures around the world with a special focus on music of the African diaspora - from African folk melodies, Brazilian and Caribbean grooves to jazz, funk and go-go rhythms. Indigenous People has documented its sound on the albums Captured Live in Brazil (1999), Unite (2001) and N.G.G.R. Please (2003). Cary has now rebilled the group as "Cosmic Indigenous" and has a forthcoming Motéma release in the works. Meanwhile, he continues to work steadily as a producer and collaborator on recorded and live projects in the jazz, hip-hop, R&B and dance arenas.
"The things that have kept the Focus Trio concentrated are basic principles of openness and intent to play like it is our last chance, every time," notes Cary. "And we keep having these incredible discoveries, which happen mostly on the bandstand. There's a great understanding of our love for the music and what we're seeking."
Marcy Carey will soon be appearing: August 25 / Westminster Church / Washington, DC // August 29 / Scullers Jazz Club (For the Love of Abbey, solo) / Boston, MA // September 21 / Monterey Jazz Festival (Focus Trio) / Monterey, CA // October 16 - 17 / Monk at 96 / Los Angeles, CA
Four Directions (release date Oct. 8, 2013) - Track Listing
1. Todi Blues
2. Waltz Betty Waltz
3. He Who Hops Around
4. Open Baby
7. Ready or Not
10. Outside my Window