Eric McGarry | As I Am, As You Were Review
by Darnell Jackson
In the heart of Eric McGarry’s debut album, As I Am, As You Were, released on January 27, 2023, there lies a narrative deeply interwoven with themes of change, self-discovery, and the cyclical nature of existence. This album, featuring McGarry on both electric and acoustic guitars, alongside Micah Graves on piano and Fender Rhodes, Mervin Toussaint on alto saxophone, Pete Dennis on upright bass, and Steven Perry on drums, reflects McGarry’s multifaceted talent as a composer, musician, and leader. With all compositions credited to McGarry, the album unfolds as a coherent exploration of musical innovation, rooted in the rich soils of contemporary jazz.
The opening track, “Migration,” sets the tone with its intricate groove and captivating interplay between McGarry’s guitar and Toussaint’s saxophone. McGarry’s approach to the guitar solo—marked by warm distortion and melodically rich lines—paints a vivid picture of musical dialogue, enhanced by the ethereal touch of Ross Bellenoit’s lap steel guitar. This track demonstrates the quintet’s exceptional synergy and McGarry’s ability to create an inviting and complex musical canvas.
“Monocarpia” further exemplifies McGarry’s gift for composition, weaving a suspenseful journey that balances introspection with dynamic range. The warm, woody tone of McGarry’s guitar, paired with Graves’ dynamic piano accompaniment, showcases a profound understanding of musical storytelling. This piece, in particular, highlights the ensemble’s ability to navigate through varying intensities, offering listeners an immersive experience of emotional depth and technical proficiency.
The album’s thematic core—examining the self in the face of change—is eloquently expressed in “Tides” and “Inhale, Exhale.” These compositions delve into the nature of change, using musical metaphors to reflect on personal growth and the transformative journey of self-discovery. “Tides,” with its rhythmic evocativeness and compelling interplay between the players, sings of life’s persistent patterns, while “Inhale, Exhale” offers a pattern of self-exploration to rise above challenges.
McGarry’s transition to acoustic guitar in “Transcendence” introduces a refreshing textural shift and significantly enriches the album’s sonic landscape, showcasing his exceptional versatility as a musician. This composition, where meditative tones of contemporary gospel seamlessly meet the intricate layers of contemporary jazz, serves as a profound metaphor for personal growth and transformation. The acoustic guitar’s softer, more introspective sound underscores the album’s exploration of change, starkly contrasting the more electric textures found elsewhere on As I Am, As You Were.
Mervin Toussaint’s alto saxophone solo in this piece is delightful. His performance showcases lyrical brilliance and emotional depth, reflecting the album’s thematic preoccupation with the cyclical nature of life and the continuous journey of self-discovery. Toussaint’s ability to convey complex emotions through his instrument adds a layer of narrative depth to the composition, making “Transcendence” a standout track that resonates on multiple levels.
Through the integration of gospel and jazz elements, “Transcendence” reflects the broader narrative of As I Am, As You Were—an artistic journey through the landscapes of change, identity, and authenticity. This blend of genres not only highlights McGarry’s innovative approach to composition but also aligns with the album’s message about the beauty and complexity of personal and musical evolution. The ensemble’s ability to convey this message through a cohesive and emotionally charged performance underscores the album’s exploration of the self in the face of change, making it a compelling listen from start to finish.
The rhythm section, with Dennis on upright bass and Perry on drums, crafts a foundational backdrop that is both beautiful and uplifting. Their work allows the compositions to flow naturally, breathing life into McGarry’s themes of change and evolution with every note. This emotional energy is palpable, turning each composition into an immersive experience that mirrors the album’s core message of introspection, growth, and the transformative power of embracing change.
Throughout As I Am, As You Were, McGarry and his ensemble navigate the complexities of modern jazz with apparent ease, blending traditional elements with contemporary approaches. The album’s production, helmed by McGarry and Ross Bellenoit, is meticulously crafted, allowing each instrument’s voice to resonate clearly and contribute to the overarching narrative. The mastering by Doug Raus ensures that the album’s intricate details and nuanced performances are preserved, offering listeners a pristine auditory experience.
McGarry’s debut album is a solid collection of compositions that are a journey through the myriad facets of contemporary jazz. Through his leadership, McGarry showcases his exceptional skill as a musician and composer, which invites listeners to partake in a profoundly resonant exploration of the self. As I Am, As You Were emerges as seven tracks of emotional depth and technical mastery, firmly establishing McGarry as a significant voice in contemporary jazz, capable of articulating the subtle complexities of human experience through the universal language of music.
Release Date: January 27, 2023