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Marc Cary

Think back to keyboardist Marc Cary’s first four releases. His debut as a leader, 1994’s Cary On (enja) immediately demanded our attention with its clarity and imprint of his emerging style and presence. His next two for Arabesque Recordings - 1996’s Listen, containing the beautifully bluesy "Conditional Statement" by flutist Y.C. Laws, and 1998’s The Antidote, an entrancing collection of compositions that lift the spirit gently off the ground - brought him more into our focus as a composer and bandleader. Trillium, his 1999 release on Jazzateria, introduced his first trio recording and demonstrated him getting as much energy from two men (Law is a special guest) as he does from four. Cary’s solo playing is truly mesmerizing; Cary On’s "When I Think of You", The Antidote’s "Melancholia", Trillium’s "My Love Is You." His three releases with the unit Indigenous People (1999’s Captured Live in Brazil, 2001’s Unite and 2003’s N.G.G. R. Please) beat out a guiding rhythm for us to follow.

By now, you will have sensed the sinewy motion of each recording, always stretching and flexing to a higher landing. What comes from him is organic and not some staged performance for an afternoon parlor crowd. Each one steps one pace aside from convention and explores unoccupied spaces in the music. Currently, Cary has two releases out for us to explore.

It’s a sure bet that AbSTraKT BlaK (Borough Media/Cary Out Productions), co-produced with Shon "Chance" Miller, will garner more airplay on college and community airwaves than on NPR affiliate stations programming jazz. It’s heavily "urban," if you will, swirling in Hip-Hop, Afro-Caribbean, Ambient, R&B, Spoken Word and Go-Go (music that originated out of Washington, DC) as well as jazz. In the liner notes to AbSTraKT BlaK, a commissioned work by the Studio Museum of Harlem, Cary explains that it is "a musical exploration in the spirit of the Black Arts Movement, Black Power Movement, and Free Jazz Movement." Blackness in jazz seems to repel more than invite a wide listening audience, but in no way has Cary discarded his "traditional" jazz influences. It surges in his compositions, like the flow of bubbly, hot lava under a cooling exterior. The ten tracks, particularly the title tune, "This Is" and "Across 125th" harbinger the funk yet to come from the collaboration of Marc Cary and Chance.

Focus, with David Ewell on bass and Sameer Gupta on drums and tablas, is the more conventional of the two releases and debuts the trio. They open with "Appointment in Gahna", composed by the late saxophonist Jackie McLean whom Cary speaks of as one of the Masters who "was attached to an era of a sound." Like Cary’s previous releases, there is an undeniable ebb and flow of swing and soul. Cary’s playing leaves us softened with Gupta’s "Taiwa." And his "Gentle Wind" is anything but. A truckload of trio recordings have hit the road this year in search of an audience. Some politely dance the same dance with standards already wrung dry of any substance or have so lost the message of their music in a labyrinth of cerebral distraction, that it becomes a chore to listen to them. Cary’s music says, "Here it is. Focus in."

My conversation with Marc Cary was casually interrupted by construction noises and the ordering of an egg sandwich for breakfast (no one should interview on an empty stomach.) Cary’s studio was coming to life. "I’ve had one, but this one is separate from the home. Basically, it’s for me . It’s been my dream I’ll be outsourcing my equipment to other people for other projects. This is beat one, again. I’m going to create everything. No constrictions."

Jazzreview: In the publicity that accompanies Focus, you say "To me, if you’re going to learn jazz, you should bring something to it. A lot of cats don’t think about bringing much; they just want to see what they can get. It’s got to be a two way street." Right away I think of pianist Randy Weston, who has always placed his heritage next to whatever he’s wearing, eating and playing and they become one. Is there a hesitation by artists to bring their heritage into their music and why do you think that is so?

Marc Cary: There’s a lack of understanding. If you’re gonna put something out you gotta put something in. The music that we call jazz is very giving. If the music is gonna expand and grow, we can’t keep doing what’s been done. There are so many musicians who bring their culture to the music already.

Jazzreview: How has your ethnicity and heritage been incorporated into your music?

Marc Cary: Well, for me, I’m very aware of where I come from my ancestors. I was brought to the awareness by my mother. She dropped some knowledge on me. "Hey, listen to this!" "Ah, naw, mom." "No, no, listen to this!." This opened me up to my Native-American culture. And all of these artists that we celebrate - Randy Weston and Horace Silver - "What made this cat do this?" Horace Silver uses his culture in his music. Once you learn about your culture, you get that look in your eyes, they say. I’ve been unmovable, unshakable. I know what I’ve got to do. What I do involves a lot of solitude and energy.

Jazzreview: You’re releasing two works simultaneously Focus and AbSTraKT/BlaK. Is it that your creative juices were flowing in two directions or was there some other reason for these two being released at the same time?

Marc Cary: My creative energy flow is omni-directional. I don’t necessarily do what I think. They both represent me fully. One thing I don’t like to be is labeled. Jazz, along with other things, is my roots, my thoughts. I’m much more than that. Jazz is my biggest and strongest influence. I’m very compassionate about it.

The jazz trio [referring to Focus] being accepted will help everything else come along. People are happy to just know that I’m recording. "Hey, Marc has got some new stuff out." I’m with Motema [Records, who’ve released Focus and co-released AbSTraKT/BlaK] because of their team. I believe in what they can do for me. Their enthusiasm I thing I have a better chance here than at any other label at this junction in my career. I’m extremely confident in their strategy. [With] The next records they’ll open up doors. I have two groups and I can promote them by performing. I have a lot to do and they have a lot to do. AbSTraKT/BlaK will go straight to college radio. They’re into culture, something new. I’m into what they’re into. I associate my name with quality.

Jazzreview: (from ""Focus the Motema label debut of Cary's trio, introduces his new sound, which he calls "classical-indigenous jazz for the people.’" Please explain what "classical-indigenous jazz for the people" is?

Marc Cary: Classical meaning jazz in raw spontaneous development in the true meaning of improvisation. To have a palate of sound available at an instant is beautiful. At any moment in our set we could go into a raga or we could dive into a sound that comes from China or Africa, America or even Washington D.C. We as a group have a united sound while all having separate and different cultures. It is like eating a full course meal with many palatable distinctive tastes.

Jazzreview: When I listened to The Antidote, I was entranced.

Marc Cary: So was I. Arabesque wanted me to come in and do another Listen. I wanted to do something different. Were they in the studio to understand what I was doing? Music is all about vibration. You can feel that in your body. When people walk into the room, you can feel that they’re not coming in with positive energy. They’re not invited. They want to hear, but it’s not spontaneous. You can’t say "Make a jazz record". It won’t be spontaneous. I keep an open mind with my music.

Jazzreview: What is Cary Out Productions?

Marc Cary: It started out into a family production. I involved my wife and kids. I wanted it to evolve into a generation. My concept is to present Marc Cary in his best light. As an artist, I’m an entrepreneur.

Jazzreview: On Focus, you do "Appointment in Ghana", composed by the recently deceased saxophonist Jackie McLean. Jackie didn’t live to hear this new arrangement. You did have the opportunity to play with him. What do you believe we’ve lost in not have Jackie McLean with us anymore?

Marc Cary: Well, we lost an ear. He was attached to an era of a sound. Musicians seeking knowledge will have to get it second hand now. For one, we won’t be able to hear that sound live now - "Hey, that’s Jackie McLean." We’ll miss his energy in the universe. It’s like losing a Jedi. He was one of my last connections to [drummer] Arthur Taylor." [Cary continues with comments on Arthur Taylor] I respected him as a band leader and as a teacher. He taught me the etiquette of being a black man in a white world. Once you become aware of it, you say this music came out of our struggle."

Jazzreview: What are those "other elements and spaces" that you hear in Jackie’s compositions?

Marc Cary: Jackie M is a true composer because the melody states the case. I played the melody one time in total (referring to "Appointment in Ghana"), which is a little different than normal. We improvised in between stating the melody. I was able to tear into this piece like a badger would eat his meal. We were able to find different rhythmic variations to develop our thoughts and ideas as this piece was the perfect vehicle.

MARC CARY FOCUSES IN copyright@2006 Cheyl K. Symister-Masterson This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Marc Cary
  • Interview Date: 7/1/2006
  • Subtitle: Focusing In
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