Since permanently moving to NYC from Australia in 1997 to join Gary Bartz's quartet (working with him ever since), he has played the broadest spectrum of gigs from accompanying Gospel choirs in church to the Downtown scene of The Knitting Factory and John Zorn's club The Stone." He has played with jazz heavyweights such as Jimmy Cobb (who featured on McAll's debut CD), the late Dewey Redman, and Billy Harper, as well as funk greats Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley and the JBs. His contemporary credits include Kurt Rosenwinkel's Heartcore" group, and both Josh Roseman's New Constellations" big band and Unit.
With his own music, McAll takes us on a mysterious and unpredictable journey with each album. His experience writing film scores is evident in crafting an integrated whole." Rather than extended features for his own keyboard skills, McAll is foremost an alchemist, mixing various – and seemingly diverse - elements into a unified sonic landscape. The sounds range from exquisitely delicate piano to the grungy guitar of Red and Black Shifts." He incorporates electronic sounds too, but in a very subtle way, as an added texture rather than for clever effect (such as the delicate bell chimes sounds behind the guitar in Costello"). He also knows how to use simplicity and space and let the music breathe. McAll has collaborated with vocalists and knows how to write songs and create real melodies. Circle Cycle" works on a relatively simple repetition until near the end, when the horn harmonies introduce a layer of slightly unnerving discord to makes it seems like the ground is shifting form under you.
One of McAll's great strengths as a player is his palpable groove," and this album has some killer grooves, guaranteed to get feet moving. But the hypnotic and interlocking rhythms do not fall into any standard Latin sounds. As McAll explains:
I started out with a Cuban sacred music influence, as I have been experimenting with Bata rhythms and the abstraction of 3/4, 4/4 and 6/8... and blurring the lines between these meters and their relationships for a long time. There is a place between 3 and 4 that is just magic... but things got a little out of hand. So I had to re-direct this album. Sometimes you just can't tell where things are heading and what your dealing with I suppose. The track Red and Black Shifts" is coming from those experiments."
Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel is present on all tracks bar one, and is a key element to the album as both a soloist and conceptualist. Like Gil Evans with Miles Davis, McAll composed with Rosenwinkel in mind. As McAll observes:
Having Kurt on Flashbacks just brought a sound in my head to life. When you play music with him it just lifts everything. I actually wrote some of the tunes on Flash-backs" with Kurt in mind and some of the odd weaving melodies are directly inspired by his melodic approach. His record Heartcore", with its long through composed melodies, odd forms and almost futuristic approach, changed my concept of writing for good! So it that had its effect on Flashbacks. Funny thing is, Kurt told me that my CD Release The Day actually inspired some of his writing on Heartcore.
The title track is a great example of this cross-fertilisation, as the fiendishly difficult melody line is revisited as variations in unison interludes between solo passages--but with each interlude becoming progressively more complex with its rhythmic accents than the preceding one. The effect could sound like too clever" jazz, but it actually works to joyously propel the soloist into the next passage.
Like a contemporary version of Bitches Brew, this is a concept album which could only be realized by outstanding contemporary jazz players, yet has no jazz rhythms on it. It is also hypnotic at times, and soars too with some breathtaking solos taking things to new levels. But the language is unmistakably the music of now--just as Miles Davis would insist it should be. There are no easy labels for this music. But when you take a leader from Mooroolbark, Australia, and add Afro Cuban rhythms with NYC contemporary jazz players, how could there be?
Barney McAll - Piano
Jay Rodriguez - Tenor Saxophone
Kurt Rosenwinkel - Guitar
Josh Roseman - Trombone
Drew Gress - Acoustic Bass
Jonathan Maron - Electric Bass
Pedrito Martinez - Bata and Percussion