Marc Cary didn't touch the acoustic piano, save to cue samples from his laptop perched upon it.
Marc Cary didn't touch the acoustic piano, save to cue samples from his laptop perched upon it. Patrick Jarenwattananon/NPR
Being a Washington, D.C. native — and an accomplished pianist — Marc Cary is a natural guest at the DC Jazz Festival. He's got a great group, an acoustic piano/bass/drums unit called Focus Trio, and it was the band on the bill on Friday night. But it's not perfectly easy to get the Marc Cary Focus Trio to D.C., especially when its bassist lives in San Francisco.
So Cary called up two folks from around the District. One of them was drummer Duane King, whose presence (and feel for hip-hop backbeats) freed regular drummer Sameer Gupta to play tabla drums as well. The other musician was electric bassist Tarus Mateen, who you may know from pianist Jason Moran's Bandwagon trio. And if Mateen was going to play his electric rig — well, Cary was going to bring his Fender Rhodes, and his keyboard synthesizer, and his laptop with voice samples cued up.
So the Focus Trio — usually an acoustic jazz project — took on a new conception, and for a few songs, a fourth member.
On Friday, Jun. 4 at Bohemian Caverns — one of Washington, D.C.'s premier jazz rooms — Cary and company played a lively, all-embracing second set. There were swing-feel blues, uptempo funk burners, speech samples from Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., several songs built on pentatonic scales and even a medley of Jackie McLean songs.
After playing "Taiwa," which eventually became its variant "For You," the vocal crowd exhorted Cary to play one more. Even for a 10:30 p.m. set which actually started around 11, Bohemian Caverns was packed with folks of all ages and skin colors.
DC Jazz Fest founder Charlie Fishman took the mic while Cary was figuring out an encore, but while he took his time thanking and praising everyone in sight, Cary raised a hand to cue the band. The Focus Trio — i.e. the electric Focus Trio +1 — chased him off stage with a Rhodes-based groove, and Festival executive director Sunny Sumter started cracking up. The crowd chuckled too, then sat back, exhilarated.
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