"The Round announces a first-rate jazz talent in alto saxophonist/composer Alexander McCabe."
"The Round comes to life on a swaying melody, with the leader's engaging composition "Floating." Alto saxophonist Alexander McCabe's blows in with an Art Pepper-like intensity inside the tune's drifitng ambiance, an atmosphere that he and the band achieve with a seeming ease.
McCabe studied with George Coleman, an undersung Miles Davis sideman during the very early sixties-an undersung period in Davis's ever-evolving sound. Altoist McCabe seems to have absorbed some of Coleman's subtle, sneak-up-on-you eloquence, and the master's storytelling gift that keeps you riveted and coming back for multiple listens.
McCabe penned five of the eight tunes on this strong straightahead set; pianist/accordionist Joe Barbato wrote two more, and drummer Steve Johns composed another. Of special note is Joe Barbato's accordion work. Sax and accordion are tangy and sweet, two instruments that seem to be made to acccompany each other. The title tune brings a traditional Irish feeling to the set, a high-energy, propulsive pub crawler, evoking images of low ceilings and gleaming taps, froth-topped pints of Guinness on the bar, and musicians huddled in a corner, wailing. Also, Barbato adds some squeezebox ambiance to Steve Johns' "A Cry From a Rain Forest" and the closing "Salvo."
Dan McClenaghan, AllAboutJazz.com
"Alto sax journeyman Alexander McCabe has a fine CD in hand with "The Round," joined by Joe Barbato (piano and accordion), Steve Johns (drums) and Ugonna Okegwo (bass). The eight-song disc features five originals by McCabe, two by Barbato and one by Johns. Barbato and Okegwo repeatedly assay particularly tasty solos, and Barbato's accordion, as heard on the title track, provides an intriguing departure. McCabe's alto sax sound is a study in versatility. On "Village Walk" he works a beautiful, warm tone, then follows on "Jugo" with a much brighter, bop-like solo that sets the mood for Barbato's follow-up. "Yours," propelled by Okegwo's urgent bottom line, is a swinging piece that offers everyone in the quartet a chance to set sail."
Philip Van Vleck, Billboard Magazine
"This is a group with a total handle on the idiom
they love......JAZZ!! Their finely honed delivery
bespeaks their combined mastery, & alto sax man
Alexander McCabe has 'come to play.' This group
is a radical departure from what might be considered
'the ordinary.' Subdividing beats......crisp accents....
....an exceptional ability to create gainful harmonic
and complex melodic phrasing.....with an emphasis
on sustained momentum & hard rhythmic drive.
All in all, this group epitomizes an innovative matrix of superb combined technique & taste."
George W. Carroll/The Musicians' Ombudsman
NYC-BASED SAXOPHONIST-COMPOSER ALEXANDER McCABE'S NEW ALBUM "THE ROUND" FEATURES HIS QUARTET ON A PROGRAM OF ORIGINAL JAZZ
For his first national album release, The Round (WAMCO Music, October 11), alto saxophonist Alexander McCabe brings his own personality and perspective to an immensely pleasing program of original compositions that exhibit not only his own considerable artistic gifts but also those of pianist-accordion player Joe Barbato, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and drummer Steve Johns. Never falling prey to routine, McCabe's modern-minded jazz quartet has both the polish of experience and the desire to look forward on their own terms.
Creativity and approachability are not mutually exclusive. McCabe, who has played in formidable bands led by Ray Charles and Chico O'Farrill, says, "What I tried to do on this CD is make music that is both inventive and interesting, while at the same time making music that is accessible to people who aren't necessarily jazz musicians or aficionados. While I'd like the listener to hear that I know how to play the saxophone well, I'm hoping that that will come through from just enjoying what I hope is simply good music."
Good music, and then some. The album succeeds in capturing one's attention from its very start. McCabe composition "Floating" supplies a suspended kind of feeling-the sensation of being half-awake or in a daydream-through a wondrous melody, through lucid improvisations by the bandleader, pianist Barbato and bassist Okegwo, and through underlining harmonies that go for long stretches before final resolution. Dedicated to the memory of a bass player in Pittsburgh, the Barbato tune "Taylor Made" offers the winning paradox of a life-affirming, pop-like melody that continues quietly beneath an harmonically dense alto solo as the tension in the rhythm section varies from low-boil to raging. It's not so easy to strike the right balance between prettiness and provocation but the quartet pulls it off admirably.
McCabe's radiant title track dares to go beyond post-bop conventionality with pianist Barbato switching over to accordion. Its composer explains: "'The Round' is a melody which is inspired by traditional Irish music. In Irish jam sessions called "seisuns," there are long stretches where everyone plays at once, not quite group improvisation but close. The saxophone and the accordion are playing almost continuously, along with bass and drum, to create this kind of group improvisation feeling." McCabe has it right when he comments that this performance is "unique in conception for a jazz CD."
The bandleader's ballad "Village Walk" is singular too, sporting an engaging, uncomplicated melody with soloing that sounds free but is not - the musicians have three chords to solo off. The sound of the four instruments clashing or in agreement provides fascinating aural surprises. McCabe's alto, in particular, is a crisp voice that reflects both sensitivity and a sense of expectant mystery - it's clear he has worked long and hard on achieving an honest, individual sound. As for the song's title, it refers to the awesome variety of sights and sounds you encounter when walking in Greenwich Village on a fair Sunday afternoon - jugglers' exhortations, a baby's cry, taxi cab hurling by, whatever else.
The alto player says "Jugo," played to a Cuban montuno rhythm, has a "straight-ahead jazz line written over the chord changes to a very old standard. "Yours" written by McCabe, is a straight-ahead blues. The musicians approach it with a joyous swinging abandon, maintaining depth and thoughtfulness in their playing all the while. Listen for the involving jazz language Barbato, McCabe, and Johns enunciate with such eloquence in their respective feature spots. Barbato's delightful accordion returns on the gently beautiful bossa nova "A Cry From the Rain Forest," composed by drummer Steve Johns apparently with the destruction of South American rain forests in mind. On the piece, Okegwo's string bass and Johns' drum epitomize sensitivity. Last but not least, the Barbato tune "Salvo," with its composer on accordion, is all about the collective groove, specifically a very relaxed funk one; the quartet conjures up jazz poetry with seeming effortlessness. Just don't take the graceful flow of this outstandingly fresh music on all eight tracks for granted. A lot of hard work went into crafting this music, and the resulting album, The Round, belongs on the list of best albums cut by an alto player this year.
Greater Boston area native ALEXANDER McCABE, son of a retired Tufts University English professor and brother to well-known blues pianist Matt McCabe, has been based in New York the past two decades. He cites Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Jackie McLean, and John Coltrane as the primary influences on his alto playing, though he rarely references those greats in a style that has grown increasingly personal and singular over time. After moving to New York, McCabe studied under George Coleman, the world-acclaimed post-bop saxophonist who worked with Miles Davis, Lee Morgan and so many other greats in addition to leading his own bands.
McCabe has played in the bands of two of the most outstanding bandleaders of the past half century: Ray Charles and Chico O'Farrill. As a member of Charles's R&B/jazz/blues organization, he performed in such venues as Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. His stint with O'Farrill's Afro-Cuban Band took him to, among other places, the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland, the North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland, and the Vienne Jazz Festival in France. Tours with drummer George Coleman, Jr., found McCabe traveling to England, Ireland, Scotland, and Italy.
Fronting his own band, McCabe has appeared in New York, Spain, Germany, and England. He has accompanied classy NYC jazz singer Nancie Banks and world-class pianist Harold Mabern in concerts. McCabe has recorded with Banks, his brother, and the popular ska band Mephiskapheles-as a member, in the '90s, of this Jamaican-style group he performed in prominent rock clubs like CBGB's and the Whiskey a Go Go. Also, McCabe has played on the film score for the 1997 James Bond hit Tomorrow Never Dies, and composed original soundtrack music for the film River of Grass.
UGONNA OKEGWO, in the thick of Big Apple jazz action since 1989, has worked with many leading jazz musicians, from venerable singer Jon Hendricks and saxophonist Lou Donaldson to young modernists Leon Parker and Javon Jackson. He was a longtime member of pianist Jacky Terrasson's group, and he now works regularly with bands fronted by first-tier trumpeters Wallace Rooney and Tom Harrell. Okegwo has one feature album to his credit, and he has played on albums by Harrell, ace saxophone player Sam Newsome, and many others.
STEVE JOHNS, a first-call sideman in NYC for many years, can be found these days performing with great alto saxophonist Sonny Fortune. He may be most familiar to jazz fans as the long-serving drummer for pianist-sophisticate Billy Taylor. His numerous collaborators include hard-bop saxophone master Jimmy Heath and the late downtown NY saxophonist Thomas Chapin.
JOE BARBATO, who first played performed with McCabe when they were teenagers in Boston, divides his time between Boston and the Big Apple. He has performed with noted drummers Jeff "Tain" Watts and Bobby Previte. Back around 1990, when living in Pittsburgh, he appeared with saxophone players Ravi Coltrane and Stanley Turrentine.