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Marc Cary - Life Lessons (Sessionheads United)

20 September 2021

Life Lessons, the latest album from prolific keyboardist and composer Marc Cary, is the kind of record one makes after many years of expansive experience. Cary spent considerable time as an accompanist to legendary singers like Abbey Lincoln and Betty Carter and instrumental gods like Roy Hargrove, Randy Weston and Jackie McLean. Prior to that, however, he grooved in Washington, D.C. as part of that city’s vibrant go-go scene. That, of course, means that Cary is as attuned to a piece’s rhythm as to its melody. Check out the funky “It’s Not a Good Day to Die,” as bassist Dan Chmielinski fingers a Moog bass, joining drummer Diego Joaquin Ramirez in dancing around their boss’s warm Rhodes and mellifluous synth. Or the hipshaking groove of “Equilibrium,” which eschews electronics for an acoustic workout that still sounds like it’s trying to funk you between the sheets.

Cary is equally at home on the directly jazz-oriented side of the fence, of course. Cue up his gorgeous take on his former employer Hargrove’s ballad “Trust” (which also appears as a solo piano hidden track), or the heartfelt version of Lincoln’s “Learning How to Listen” and “And It’s Supposed to Be Love.” But he’s probably at his best when he seamlessly meshes tune and thump, as on the swirling “Dreamlike,” the dance- and singable “It’s Tricky” or the dynamic, skittering “Without Walls.” Cary also takes a highly distinctive detour into classical Indian raga with the electronically enhanced, amorphous “Phase 2.” Decades of experience with music of all types comes together on Life Lessons, making the title more than just a clever turn of phrase.