If there's one thing dead sure about pianist Stephen McQuarry, it's that he's confident as hell. Every note here is played with utmost conviction and design. This is well understood from the opening of Blues for Jack and its heady deconstructions playing around with a formalism leading into a series of solos turning the melody in various directions. The inventions tumbling endlessly over one another are striking but what nails the ear is the unwavering sureness of it all, the certainty of a painter who knows exactly how to build the painting up, no trace of a doubt ever for a moment entering the process.
In a set of informative liner notes, famed jazz crit Scott Yanow writes that McQuarry's work is "full of subtle surprises" and that pretty much sums the guy up. Rarely a line goes by that Stephen isn't turning it this way and that before plunking something in you never expected. That he kept within the trio format makes this virtue all the more apparent, listener ears zoning in unerringly on those convoluted ivories. Bassist Ted Burik and drummer Greg German get plenty of room to strop their chops, but the emphasis is on McQuarry and rightly so. He leans heavily into stellar influences—Jarrett, Evans, Corea, Dameron, Zawinul, etc.—but in a way that only furthers the wide imagination and atmospheric originalities displayed in abundance in his own two hands.
In fact, because the guy overflows with cleverness, his 34 Miles Away is a playful tribute to Zawinul's 74 Miles Away. Joe's song had been in 7/4, and Steve's is in 3/4, but a lot of the same thinkery is involved, which means there are all kinds of cool inversions, extrapolations, extensions, and backdowns. Consider the fact that Miles' Bitches Brew was a seminal influence on McQuarry, and you see where coinciding intelligences meet and shake hands. But I'll tell you that I hear elements of Joe Sample quite often as well (a cool ocean breeze moves through Stephen's work more than once), even George Duke occasionally. Regardless, though, Azure is the kind of piano trio that reminds you why cats like Ahmad Jamal were so popular, why the format is absolutely fascinating when done right, and why everything within triumvirates is constant forward-looking re-invention that preserves the mindset of The Great Era (Mingus, Coltrane, Miles, Monk, Kirk, etc.).
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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