Friday, June 26, 2015

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

To those that remember the music of Gary McFarland, the jazz composer and arranger who had some genuine recognition and a real presence on the serious jazz scene in the '60s especially, one must admit that he is not much remembered these days. All the more reason for the disk up for discussion today, Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland (Planet Arts 301523). It features a quintet billed as the Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble. Michael Benedict, the drummer and one of the arrangers for the program, heads the ensemble and gets co-credit with Kerry McFarland as Creative Director.

The band is a nice combination of Benedict, Joe Locke on vibes, Sharel Cassity on saxophones, Bruce Barth on piano, and Mike Lawrence on bass. Arrangements for the all-McFarland program are by Benedict, Barth and Kerry McFarland. They sound right.

McFarland died suddenly in 1971 at aged 38. But by then he had amassed a sizable legacy of compositions. The eleven numbers performed by the quintet here remind us of the substantial excellence of his music. His death was indeed a true loss.

Barth, Lawrence and Benedict have been playing together as a trio for a long while. Their closeness and empathy lay the foundations for some strong jazz. The addition of Locke and Cassity, both very accomplished musicians, complete the picture. All the front-liners are by now very much into their own thing and showcase the McFarland repertoire with a contemporary post-bop immediacy. The rhythm team puts a very solid foundation underneath it all.

The album is a real treat, a surprise to me because I had no special expectations at the first listening stage, yet it all jumped out and grabbed me straight off.

It is very first-rate music all the way. The McFarland compositions come to life again with a real presence, and the improvising & swinging manage to give the whole session living, breathing relevance and a contemporary timelessness.

This one is a winner!

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