By John Murph | Published February 2020
Joe McCarthy’s ascent as one of today’s strongest practitioners of Nuyorican Afro-Latin jazz continues with the irrepressible Upwards. The drummer steers The New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band through an enticing program of originals and three standards with sparkling energy and finesse. Like Art Blakey, McCarthy allows his combo to become a vehicle for bandmates to exercise their compositional skills. Pianist Manuel Valera wrote the punchy title-track, which comes along with a sashaying motif that recalls Wayne Shorter’s “Beauty And the Beast.” Valera, however, loads “Upwards” with zigzagging contrapuntal lines and rubato rhythmic shifts, on top of which alto saxophonist Matt Hong and trombonist John Yao issue dynamic solos. Meanwhile, guitarist Vinny Valentino’s “J Ben Jazz” showcases the band in a more pastoral mood while retaining an infectious rhythmic pulse.
With the emphasis on compositions and impressive solos from ensemble players, it’s tempting to underestimate the leader’s instrumental prowess. McCarthy certainly doesn’t hog the spotlight, but his rhythmic agility and accord with percussionist Samuel Torres can’t be ignored.
Upwards: Upwards; J Ben Jazz; Caravan; Five For Elvin; Nostalgia In Time; Isabelita; Afternoon In Paris; Positano. (63:40)
Personnel: Joe McCarthy, drums; Matt Hong, Kristy Norter, Ben Kono, Dave Riekenberg, Eden Bareket, saxophone; Sara Jacovino, John Yao, Sam Blakeslee, Jen Hinkle, trombone; Nick Marchione, Raul Agraz, Bryan Davis, Dave Smith, trumpet; Manuel Valera, piano; Boris Kozlov, bass; Vinny Valentino, guitar; Samuel Torres, percussion.