Brian McCarthy's "Better Angel" CD featured in "The Art Music Lounge"

Album Cover: The Better Angels of Our NatureBrian McCarthy's "Better Angel" CD featured in "The Art Music Lounge"

By Lynn René Bayley for

McCarthy Blends Jazz With Civil War Music

THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE / TRADITIONAL-McCARTHY: The Bonnie Blue Flag. HOWE: The Battle Hymn of the Republic. McCARTHY: Shiloh. The Better Angels of Our Nature. ROOT: Battle Cry of Freedom. TUCKER-SAWYER: Weeping, Sad and Lonely. EMMETT-HOBBS: I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land. SPIRITUAL: Oh, Freedom. HEWITT: All Quiet Along the Potomac To-night / Brian McCarthy Nonet: McCarthy, a-sax/s-sax; Bill Mobley, tpt/fl-hn; Daniel Ian Smith, t-sax/s-sax; Stantawn Kendrick, t-sax; Cameron MacManus, tb; Andrew Gustauskas, bar-sax; Justin Kauflin, pn; Matt Aronoff, bs; Zach Harmon, dm / Truth Revolution Recording Collective (no number) I suppose only saxist-bandleader Brian McCarthy really knows why he chose to arrange a number of Civil War-era songs for his nonet, adding a few originals by himself. The publicity blurb accompanying this CD, due out June 13, states that “McCarthy finds the roots of jazz in Civil War-era songs and spirit.” I like the musical results, though, and in the end that’s really all that matters. As an arranger and soloist, McCarthy is clearly influenced by the larger cool jazz bands of the 1950s and ‘60s led by such writers as Gil Evans, George Russell, Tony Scott and Rod Levitt, the last a name that only jazz cognescenti seem to recognize. These musicians pushed the envelope of the style initiated in the late 1940s-early ‘50s by Evans, John Carisi, Gerry Mulligan and Shorty Rogers, later finding flower in the names cited above. Like them, McCarthy’s band sound is rooted in the trombone and baritone saxophone, using the trumpet in its lower mid-range rather than pushing it to the stratosphere. Happily, he has in Bill Mobley a trumpeter and flugelhornist who knows how to do a first-rate Louis Mucci emulation, Mucci being the go-to guy whenever those ‘50s composers-arrangers wanted a mellow but full-sounding high horn in their ensembles. McCarthy has also learned well the lessons of using contrasting voices and counterpoint, not just in the lead lines but even as background figures. Listen to the beautiful figures he has composed behind Justin Kauflin’s piano solo in Battle Hymn of the Republic, and then, later, the astringent held chords he places behind his own alto sax solo. Due to the richness and complexity of his writing, the solos themselves don’t have to be the most dazzling, but they do have to fit in to the overall structure. They need to be able to pick up on the theme statements and altered chord progressions used in the ensembles and apply those to their improvised contributions. McCarthy’s band, which is as tight as a snare drum and as warm as a teddy bear, envelops itself around those alterations and composed figures with consummate ease.