Canadian vibesman Dan McCarthy has come a long way since the release of his already very accomplished debut album Interwords (self produced) in 2006. Since moving to Brooklyn, New York in 2004, McCarthy has been able to collaborate with some of the city's finest improvisors, such as Steve Swallow or Ben Monder who are also the musicians joining him on his first of two albums in 2019, both released on the Seattle-based label Origin Records. The quartet performing on early spring record Epoch, featuring Swallow and Monder, is completed by violinist Mark Feldman and stands in stark contrast to the late summer soundtrack City Abstract. The difference between the two outings isn't triggered merely by the change in instrumentation—the first being a drumless quartet venture—but mainly from the very dissimilar compositional approaches. Epoch's deconstructed nature and quietly broiling aesthetic come in the spirit of past achievements from the ECM label, while City Abstract leans more towards the mainstream direction and is filled with Bop-lines and Fusion-language. Both are deserving of a number of spins and attentive ears for different, and many reasons.
Performed with another quartet, the 6 months later released City Abstract
shows McCarthy from his more immediate side. This time around the vibraphonist is joined by fellow Canadian musicians Ted Quinlan on guitar, Pat Collins on bass and Ted Warren on drums. A tribute to Carla Bley as well as Gary Burton, the set is made up of seven originals crafted with their inspiration in mind and the Pat Metheny composition "Midwestern Nights Dream" as well as Keith Jarrett's "Coral." The melodies come bubbling out from guitar and vibes with determination on the opening Bley homage "Bleyto" and set the mood for the record. Collins' walking bass forms a coherent rhythmic partnership with Warren's traditional drumwork while Quinlan and McCarthy trade solos and motifs in a joyful way. Both covers are treated with much attention to detail. The dreamy ballad from Metheny's chef d'oeuvre of a debut album Bright Size Life (ECM, 1976) is interpreted with much respect for the original version—the vibraphone being a perfect instrument to expand on the atmospheric nature of the tune. The liveliness of "Go beserk" comes as a welcome shift towards a more electric direction and sees Quinlan go full fusion on his distorted guitar tone while the vibraphone's sustain layers the single notes to form a harmonic whole. Drums and bass are given more room to unfold in as the album progresses and demonstrate a patient yet gripping foundation for the melodic voices to flourish in—in the quieter ballads such as "Other things of less consequence" or "Utviklingssang" as well as the mid-tempo grooves "Sparrow Lake" or "Thoughts and Reveries." The album couldn't close on a more fitting note than with the bluesy and pop-friendly Gary Burton homage "Desert Roads." City Abstract is the kind of album that will set the day's good mood and fill heads with melodies to hum to.