The concept of homecoming is inextricably linked to the music that Dan McCarthy presents on City Abstract. Recorded in May of 2019, shortly after he had returned to his native Toronto after fifteen years in New York, this date finds the vibraphonist bowing to two of his biggest influences: pianist Carla Bley and vibraphonist Gary Burton. Those lodestars provide solid inspiration and clear direction for McCarthy, who works his way through originals and a few choice covers with a balanced approach that speaks both to strength and poise, and the romance embedded in the act of repatriation adds a touch of nostalgic allure to the music.
Teaming up with a trio of Canada's finest—guitarist Ted Quinlan, bassist Pat Collins and drummer Ted Warren—McCarthy makes his presence felt immediately on "Bleyto (For Carla Bley)." This dynamic original finds Collins and Warren spurring their band mates on. McCarthy and Quinlan, riding the waves of energy produced from on low, spin intricate unison lines and deliver some serious solo statements. From there the vibraphonist dials it back a bit, first with a wide-eyed gaze at Pat Metheny's varicolored "Midwestern Nights Dream" that reaffirms the well-matched nature of McCarthy and Quinlan, and then with a sublimely mellow trip through Keith Jarrett's "Coral" that gives Collins a chance to shine. After delivering those two purely peaceable covers, McCarthy switches gears again, sending a clear message that finesse can be met with fire. "Go Berserk," an intense number in seven underscored by a persistent motif, burns deep during its brief lifespan.
As McCarthy moves past the swaying, straight-eighth "Sparrow Lake" occupying City Abstract's midpoint, the music looks toward more reflective and lyrical realms. "Other Things Of Less Consequence," wistful and warm as it is, proves to be one of the vibraphonist's standout compositions; Bley's "Utviklingssang" plays on a magnetic blend of introspective and seductive sentiments; and 'Thoughts And Reveries," with bossa nova inflections and a modernist's color scheme, flows on by. Then the album comes to a fitting end with "Desert Roads (For Gary Burton)." Alluding to that vibraphone pioneer's rides down country roads and other places, that number provides a solidly satisfying ending with an easy-going vibe and a touch of Southern rock in the mix.
It's tempting to say that the change of scenery has done Dan McCarthy some good, but the truth is that location may have little to do with his musical fortunes. It's a growth mindset that really deserves the credit. McCarthy keeps looking up and, in doing so, reaching new heights.