Thursday, July 9, 2015

Some flugelhorn magic from Marlin McKay: 'The Look' is worth a listen

Marlin McKay has been notably prominent on the Indianapolis jazz scene in recent years, so it's good to have CD representation from him that includes some star power throughout the band.

Marlin McKay (photo by Mark  Sheldon)
He is heard on flugelhorn only here ("The Look," Nostalgic Records), and his melodically focused playing, capable of assertiveness but always in the service of high spirits, recalls the flugelhorn mastery of Art Farmer.

His writing is also good, from the clever fast blues "3 Peas in a Pod" to the rhapsodic but incisive "Rhyne for Lemon Vine." On the latter, Bobby Floyd's organ-playing nails down the Melvin Rhyne tribute, with some nifty reinforcement on the tune from Stefon Harris' vibraphone.

The standard "Easy to Love" lives up to its title. McKay's fluency never seems glib, and his arrangement is notable for a cunning instrumental blend, especially in the coda. National star Harris gets a vibes solo showcase, and that's a definite plus for this easy-to-love scenario.

The longest track, "Mikael," mostly justifies its stretched-out status, though it seems to me that drummer Clif Wallace is too prominent, with a cymbal-heavy sound that just doesn't suit this piece.

Speaking of percussion, the light touch on "Lawns," like a pattering rain that somehow swings, is tailor-made for the appealing melody. Anthony Wonsey keeps things relaxed in his best piano solo of the disc.

Occasional local bandmate Rob Dixon is on hand briefly, dependably always finding something fresh to say as he solos in the hard-charging "If We Must Die." On this track, by the way, the busy variety coming from the drums seems perfect.

"Far and Away" deserves a mention for its deceptively nonchalant Dixon solo as well as the mood-setting opening statement by bassist Dezron Douglas. That introduces the unison theme, which is just eccentric enough to evoke early Wayne Shorter.

The title piece is a fine, though not spectacular, closer. It typifies the expertness of this band and its leader, as well as his way of engaging the attention while staying unruffled and congenial.