In a two-night run at Bohemian Caverns with his Focus Trio last weekend, hometown hero Marc Cary gave a lot of importance to tempo, groove, tone and key — but the way he showed all of them respect was to reach in and tear them apart. In Saturday night’s first set, the pianist and keyboardist danced through a series of originals, including an extended spin through various themes and synthesizer sounds during a hybrid he calls the “CD Changer,” and took on classics “‘Round Midnight” and “Single Petal of a Rose.” He led the latter, a lesser-known Duke Ellington composition for solo piano, in alternating directions — sometimes rubato, sometimes close to a steady groove, often tipping his hat to classical piano technique. As a pianist, some of Cary’s most obvious antecedents are Geri Allen and McCoy Tyner, but there’s more there: for one, a personal brand of repetition and rhythmic meditation, honed through years of playing in go-go bands (among other places).
Here was the revelation tucked inside Saturday’s music: All things can be in flux, with nothing taken for granted and nothing rigidly planned, while retaining composure and even a deep sense of composition. This was music that knew its path, if not its destination. Check out bassist Tarus Mateen locking in with drummer and tabla player Sameer Gupta on complicated, upside-down grooves they hadn’t rehearsed (after knocking out “‘Round Midnight,” whose arrangement was built on the version from Cary’s Live 2009 LP, Mateen told me he’d never heard that record). Or the way that “‘Round Midnight” found grooves where they’d probably never been before, and threw song form to the wind in order to tussle with them.
Photographer Jati Lindsay hung out with the band during soundcheck on Friday night, and snapped some photos as the trio rehearsed.