Circulation – The Music Of Gary McFarland – The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble – Planet Arts 310523, 66:10 ****:
(Joe Locke – vibes; Sharel Cassity – saxophones; Bruce Barth – piano; Mike Lawrence – bass; Michael Benedict – drums)
For a period in the 1960s, it appeared that composer, arranger, and vibist Gary McFarland could do no wrong. Whether it was providing arrangements for The Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band, arranging and conducting the orchestra for Stan Getz Big Band Bossa Nova, leading The Gary McFarland Orchestra With Bill Evans, or The Gary McFarland Sextet-Point Of Departure, he appeared to be fulfilling the soubriquet given to him by author Gene Lees of “adult prodigy”. This all came to a crashing end in 1971 at the age of 38, when he died as the result of some misadventure that has never been properly explained. Over time, his musical notoriety has been largely forgotten, but The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble hopes to resurrect an appreciation of his contribution to jazz with the release of Circulation: The Music Of Gary McFarland.
This session is composed exclusively of McFarland material beginning with “Dragonhead” which opens with a shimmering soprano sax from Sharel Cassity and then segues into some vigorous piano from Bruce Barth. Drummer Michael Benedict keeps the band moving along with his sprightly cymbal work in addition to a well thought-out solo. It would not be an overstatement to say that McFarland had a good grasp of blues lines with two sparking numbers: “Why Are You Blue” and “Blue Hodge”. Both these tunes were featured on the long out of print Johnny Hodges/Wild Bill Davis album Blue Hodge. On the former, Joe Locke’s vibes are front and centre as he find a steady groove, and on the latter Cassity shows she has fluid thoughtfulness on the alto sax.
Two other compositions that helped McFarland’s reputation were “Chuggin’” and “Bridgehampton Strut” both of which were recorded by the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band in the early 60s. As played by the group, the tunes are admirably captivating, and offer everyone a chance to dig into the spirit of the music for the appropriate dynamic effect. “Last Rites For The Promised Land” was done originally by Gary McFarland and a big band for a 1968 release entitled America The Beautiful. Here Joe Locke takes a solo turn on exploring the number with poignancy, that only an adept improvisor can impart.
There is an expectation that The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble will continue to delve into the treasure trove of McFarland material and that can only be a good thing.
TrackList: Dragonhead; Why Are You Blue?; Sandpiper; One I Could Have Loved; Chuggin’; Bridgehampton Strut; Blue Hodge; Notions; Summer Day; Circulation; Last Rites For The Promised Land