Composer, conductor, arranger and vibraphonist extraordinaire, Gary McFarland had a singular vision of music that was very much in tune with the major innovations in pop music in the 1960s and adapted to this to the idiom of jazz, with various other elements incorporated including Brazilian music and western classical. This well-rounded CD captures the mood of his mid-1960s Verve period and is a fine example of what he was capable of, surrounded by some of the most gifted of studio session musicians, and these include among others Kenny Burrell, Richard Davis, Willie Bobo and Candido Camero, Grady Tate and Jimmy Cleveland. Born in Los Angeles in 1933,McFarland was, by 1965, a fully matured musician who worked closely with other musicians on the Impulse and Verve labels. On the former, where he started to record, he struck up a personal friendship and collaborative partnership with guitarist Gabor Szabo, and albums such as ‘Gypsy 66’ and his own, ‘Simpatico’, brought him wider attention and a contract with Verve. This extended over six albums.
Both albums follow a similar trajectory of covers of popular songs of the day in instrumental coupled with some choice original material. The first of these, ‘The In Sound’, is, to these ears, the stronger of the two with meatier soloing and some memorable self-compositions, most notably, ‘Fried bananas’ and the evocative, ‘Hills of Verdugo’. New emerging talents including the songwriter duo of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and, ‘Here I Am’, is a relatively early cover of one such song. The Rolling Stones were only just beginning to make inroads into the American market, but McFarland was hip to their sound and, ‘(I can’t get no) Satisfaction’, is a lovely interpretation and ends the album on a high.
The second album, ‘Soft samba’, which actually came out a year previous, is strongly influenced by the then hit making machine of the Lennon and McCartney songbook and that is most certainly reflected in the number of their songs reworked here. The more reflective, ‘And I Love Her’, works best and the catchy, ‘She Loves You’, is instantly recognisable. Other jazz musicians went into more depth on their covers, such as Grant Green whose, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, is a superior version, helped in no small part by the efforts of left-field Hammond organist, Larry Young. Actually, the strongest covers lie elsewhere with, ‘From Russia With Love’, illustrating that McFarland was in tune with other composers. The only pity is that the world of cinema did not have the foresight to recognise McFarland as a gifted composer whose music was ideally transferable to the wide-screen. That recognition alone might just have prolonged the musician’s life a little longer. Gary McFarland was intuitive enough to spot a good tune ripe for reworking and in, ‘The Good Life’, he had the good fortune to identify a song that would become over time a jazz standard, with arguably the best interpretation of all coming from singer Betty Carter.
An authoritative twenty page booklet complete with facsimile front and cover sleeves and a plethora of historical background information comes courtesy of Douglas Payne who is a fountain of knowledge on the musician in that he is at once the guardian of the Gary McFarland archive (dougpayne.com) as well as a contributor to a documentary film on the musician, ‘This is Gary McFarland’. An ideal follow-up to this pairing would be the 1968 album on Verve, ‘Scorpio and other Signs’, which ended his six album tenure at the label. McFarland subsequently set up and co-founded his own record label, Skye records, along with Szabo and fellow vibraphonist, Cal Tjader, collaborating directly with the latter on, ‘Solar Heat’. Sadly, Gary McFarland was to pass away just three years later in 1971, aged just thirty-eight. The music is well worthy of a retrospective examination.