Vermont sax star Brian McCarthy shines on new quartet album

Vermont saxophonist Brian McCarthy celebrates the release of his new quartet album “Codex” Saturday in Burlington. PHOTO BY SETH CASHMAN

Brian McCarthy has got it goin’ on. The Hardwick-born, Colchester-based saxophonist, 36, celebrates the release of yet another stellar album, “Codex,” with his quartet at 8 p.m. Saturday at FlynnSpace in Burlington. This just a mere four months after the release of his highly acclaimed nonet album, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” which Downbeat recently dubbed one of the best jazz albums of 2017. Recorded immediately following the “Better Angels” sessions, “Codex” — which was produced by McCarthy’s wife, Linda Little, a jazz musician and former director of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival — had long been in the works when the Civil War-inspired “Better Angels” “came out of nowhere and displaced our well-laid plans,” said McCarthy in an August interview. “Codex,” his third album as a leader, marks the recorded debut of McCarthy’s quartet, which includes longtime bandmates pianist Justin Kauflin (Clark Terry, Quincy Jones) and bassist Evan Gregor (Phil Woods, David Liebman), and a more recent acquaintance, drummer Jared Schonig (Kurt Elling, Nicholas Payton). Kauflin and Gregor are New York City-based musicians who McCarthy met while at William Paterson University in New Jersey. Learning from legendary jazz musicians like trumpeter Clark Terry and pianists Mulgrew Miller and James Williams, they earned degrees in jazz performance and composition. McCarthy pays homage to all three recently deceased musicians on “Codex,” a raw, emotional and highly personal tour de force that offers insight into McCarthy’s genius as both a composer and performer of the highest order. The album serves as “a collection of homages and interpretations that touch on the crucial events and mentors of his life to date,” according to a press release. “As a codex is a way of binding ancient text together, so for me this album feels like binding the information of Brian McCarthy together,” says McCarthy in the release. “It’s almost an information source for the things that make me me.” “In college, James Williams, Mulgrew Miller and Clark Terry created a perpetual motion of growth within me,” McCarthy said in August. “Anyone who was mentored by or performed along with them has been fundamentally changed forever. We honor them every time we play a note, so I wanted to make sure people know.” “Elder Lion,” a tribute to Williams, is a sprightly and propulsive tune that seriously cooks, while “Miller Time” is a gorgeously languid nineminute masterpiece and album highlight. Those two McCarthy originals are joined by another standout track, a sultry and delightful take on the bluesy Clark Terry song, “One Foot in the Gutter.” “Commonplace,” another McCarthy original, is a brooding yet beautiful composition about the tragic increase of school shootings — “music and art, if done right,” he said, “can bring about discussion, and that discussion hopefully leads to positive change.” Other McCarthy tunes include the pretty and delicate “Acoustic Shadows,” and the groove-driven “Sarabande,” which takes its inspiration from the singular classical composer Claude Debussy. And “Causeway” is a compelling tune composed by Little. McCarthy pays tribute to another influence on the sparkling rendition of “Senerity” by sax icon Joe Henderson. And the short and sweet “El Manisero” (“The Peanut Vendor”), by Cuban composer Moises Simons, is a favorite of another mentor, Burlington-based trumpeter Ray Vega. McCarthy said the songs “provide a vehicle for us to explore and create using the language of jazz,” adding: “Small groups, like this quartet, have their own vibe. It’s the same energy and creativity as a project like ‘Better Angels,’ but a different approach. The large group has a script that the band stays more close to, where the small group has more agility to spontaneously change direction around that script.” FLYNNSPACE The Brian McCarthy Quartet celebrates the release of its new album, “Codex,” at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2 at FlynnSpace, Burlington. Tickets are $25, $21 for students; call 802-863-5966, or go online to

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