Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble: Circulation

Planet Arts
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Puzzle

I suspect only true jazz historians — or fans from my generation — are familiar with Gary McFarland. Born in Los Angeles in 1933, he came to jazz relatively late, while in the Army. He tried trumpet, trombone and piano, and settled on vibes in the mid 1950s. He also was a vocalist, but his skills as a composer, arranger and producer set him apart.

A musician is known by the company he keeps, and by those who seek him out. McFarland’s closest friends included luminaries such as Bill Evans, John Lewis, Bob Brookmeyer, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Anita O’Day and Clark Terry. And, like so many of his peers, McFarland attended the Berklee School Of Music.

Alas, his life and career were all too short. He and a friend were poisoned at a bar by someone who poured liquid methadone into their drinks. McFarland suffered a fatal heart attack and died; he was only 38 years old.

This album, by the Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble, includes 11 of McFarland’s compositions. The quintet features another vibes icon, Joe Locke, along with pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Mike Lawrence, saxophonist Sharel Cassity, and drummer Michael Benedict. 

The track menu was chosen from different segments of McFarland’s all-too-brief career. The opening track, “Dragonhead,” is an up-tempo swinger from his time at Berklee. “Why Are You Blue” and “Blue Hodge” demonstrate his feel for the blues; the latter has become a jazz standard. “The One I Could Have Loved” and “Summer Love” represent his softer, balladic, side. Everything clearly demonstrates McFarland’s talent.

“Unknown” usually means “not missed,” but that isn’t the case here, or with McFarland in general. Thanks are due all those associated with the creation of this lovely memorial.

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