The New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band
Release Date: November 8, 2019
Selection #: ZM 201909
UPC Code: 880956140921
1. Upwards 7:31
2. J Ben Jazz 8:51
3. Caravan 10:20
4. Five For Elvin 9:54
5. Nostalgia in Time 8:20
6. Isabelita 10:37
7. Afternoon in Paris 6:44
8. Positano 7:59
The New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band:
Joe McCarthy - drums, band leader:
Saxes: Matt Hong, Kristy Norter, Ben Kono, Dave Riekenberg, Eden Bareket
Trombones: Sara Jacovino, John Yao, Sam Blakeslee, Jen Hinkle
Trumpets: Nick Marchione, Raul Agraz. Bryan Davis, Dave Smith
Guitar: Vinny Valentino
Piano: Manuel Valera
Bass: Boris Kozlov
Percussion: Samuel Torres
Producers: Joe McCarthy, Kabir Sehgal, Paul Avgerinos.
Executive Producer: Joachim “Jochen” Becker.
Recorded on April 17-18, 2019 at Reservoir Studios, New York City.
Recording Engineer: Rich Lamb.
Editing: Kostadin Kamcev, Rich Lamb.
Mixing: Kostadin Kamcev at Mozart Studio.
Mastering: Vinny Valentino.
Photograhp: Band photos by Dror Pikielny, Joe
McCarthy photo by Aleksandr Karjaka.
Package Design: Al Gold.
Joe McCarthy and The New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band continue to impress with their new CD, the first after the band’s relocation from Washington, DC to New York City. It is leader Joe McCarthy’s second release on ZOHO after the Afro Bop Alliance’s critically acclaimed 2014 release Angel Eyes (ZOHO ZM 201408). The new album’s title and opening number, Upwards, appropriately signifies Joe’s ongoing quest as a bandleader to present vibrant, colorful music that blends cultures and musical styles into an exciting package.
Upwards has a strong drive and insistence built within its composition. The limelight is focused on the ensemble with some intricate writing all generated by the band’s pianist, Manuel Valera. The alto sax solo by Matt Hong seems to signal that the chart has achieved “liftoff” to an upper atmosphere. The intricate ensemble passage that follows adds “weight” that creates a desire to move “upwards” again where trombonist John Yao gives the chart more “lift”. Manuel gets to express some solo comments on piano during the chart’s final moments. I hope you enjoy the ride during this track and throughout the entire presentation of music on this CD.
"J Ben Jazz", written by guitarist Vinny Valentino as a homage to bassist John Benitez, is a composition with many surprises that are held together by a strong melodic sense. Boris Kozlov on electric bass leads off with the first solo. Dave Riekenberg follows with a soulful solo on tenor sax. The isolated guitar/piano duo in the middle of the chart works really well as a bold contrast. It ultimately serves as a bed for some commentary from Joe on drums and Samuel Torres on percussion. Both Vince Norman and Joe McCarthy did a fine job with the arrangement for the band.
The original version of the iconic “Caravan” by Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol certainly is an early example of blending Latin-style rhythms with mainstream jazz. If you know it, then you’ll really appreciate Joe McCarthy’s unique portrayal. It begins with an extended prologue that features Joe and Samuel in a reflective percussive dialogue. Eventually we yearn for a solid tempo which arrives as anticipated, but here is where the surprise occurs. (I won’t say more.) During the bridge, where the piece normally becomes more straight-ahead, the counter line adds a sophisticated modern bebop sense to the familiar melody. When the chart enters the improvisation section, the players continue to preserve a sense of exotic mystery. Check out Manuel’s artful piano “comping” underneath Kristy Norter, the soloist on alto sax, who vacillates comfortably from the modally-modern A sections into the bebop-style bridge. Ben Kono’s solo on tenor sax follows a very interesting band interlude.
“Five For Elvin” is a brooding composition set at a slow, swinging tempo. Fans of the great drummer Elvin Jones are familiar with the hallmark feature of his work at this tempo: a big, broad beat laced with an intricate current of triplets. Joe McCarthy‘s drumming captures this memory perfectly. What’s different though is the 5/4 meter (hence the title) with some sudden interjections of meter change, a double-time feel, and some mesmerizing hemiola (3:2) phrasing all executed flawlessly by the band members. Alex Brown, the arranger, strikes a perfect balance between maintaining respect for the composition while adding some new dimension within his arrangement.
“Nostalgia in Time (One for Fambrough)” is another dedication this time for jazz bassist Charles Fambrough. It is a heartfelt piece that has a lot of direct passion and energy. The composition and arrangement are penned by the band’s bassist, Boris Kozlov. The trombone solo, played by Sam Blakeslee, is a welcome contrasting sound at this point in the album. Sam’s tone is dark and robust. The wah-wah effect on Vinny’s guitar is also a nice surprise and he faithfully sustains the spirit of this music.
“Isabelita” is another composition by Manuel Valera. The melodic and harmonic elements of the piece qualify as a ballad. But the romantic aspect is intensified with an intricate foundation of rhythmic complexity that results in an exciting and adventurous listening experience. The improvisers (Manuel and also Dave Smith on trumpet) once again capture these contrasting compositional aspects in a beautiful way. Boris Kozlov’s electric bass solo is a welcome surprise where he delivers a most passionate but tasteful performance on the instrument.
As a classic bebop composition presented with a Latin-tinged groove underneath, “Afternoon in Paris” exemplifies the core of the band’s artistic mission. After the tune, the interior portion of the arrangement showcases the horns with a unison soli line (no chords!) that explodes into a full-blown shout. (There are also some classic bebop melodic references buried in this chart see if you can find them). Matt Hong’s improvised solo on soprano sax demonstrates a deft understanding of the fast-moving harmonic progression while couched in a modern, abstract concept. Dave Smith’s flugelhorn solo, equally impressive, offers a nice contrast with some motivic development and moments of reflection. I very much appreciate Nick Marchione’s fine arrangement, in particular his good taste in using mellow-register backgrounds underneath the solo flugelhorn. Manuel’s piano solo is well-placed as it gives the listener a brief respite from action in the horns.
“Positano” is composed by the band’s guitarist Vinny Valentino, and arranged by Vince Norman. If you’ve ever traveled to this famous and beautiful town in Italy, you’ll know what to expect from the music. After a lovely brass chorale, Vinny’s guitar sound and performance set the mood perfectly. The grand ensemble in the middle of the arrangement is capped with a soaring tenor sax solo by Ben Kono. Then there is a more intimate moment where Boris Kozlov gets to express himself on the acoustic bass.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the entire presentation of music on this CD. Congratulations to Joe and his band mates for creatively pushing Latin big band jazz forward in exciting new directions!
This album is unbridled energy. From his place on the drum “throne,” Joe McCarthy leads his impressive large ensemble through the warp and weft of vintage jazz numbers, as well as more contemporary pieces. While there are many big bands on the scene, there are none quite like his, which can navigate between bebop and clave with dexterity and aplomb.
That the band can move from angular, intervallic runs to lush, more pensive moments is a testament to the virtuosity of its performers and the artistic suppleness of its leader. Throughout each number is a “time certain,” a precision of rhythm from “Chief Joe” who was a member of the US Navy and led one of its bands. And if you ask members of band, they will commend him for his professionalism and unwavering commitment to get the most (and the best) from each performer. As a Navy man myself, I say to my shipmate “Bravo Zulu!” It has been a privilege and honor to produce this album with Paul Avgerinos for McCarthy, who has given us an exquisite vessel of craft and care.
Thank you for listening to our latest offering. Upwards is not only a masterful composition, it is the trajectory of this project. As The Afro Bop Alliance closes in on twenty years of existence, it has been an evolving journey in all aspects. Upwards is the debut recording of The New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band, the city I had always envisioned as this band’s home. The NYC musicians on this recording have so beautifully showcased this new chapter with the sound and feel I have been striving to achieve. My deepest gratitude to everyone in the band, past and present.
Nick Marchione and Vinny Valentino have played keys roles with this band since my arrival to NYC, thank you for your friendship, guidance and trust. Thank you Rich Lamb, Kostadin Komcev and Vinny Valentino for capturing the beautiful sound and presentation. To Jochen, Kabir, Paul and Rich, thank you for everything. Thank you to my family and friends, who continue to inspire me everyday. My sponsors: Yamaha, Zildjian, Vic Firth, Remo and Lp, thank you for your continued support. To my wife Angelica, you have given me new life and this recording never would have happened without you, I Love You.