The eight-string Novax guitar has long the instrument of choice for Charlie Hunter, and the two are as inseparable as was Dizzy Gillespie and his trumpet with the bent-up bell. But Hunter isn’t Novax’s only customer and Kelly McCarty makes his living from that axe, too. These Novak hybrid guitars have been around for some twenty years and it’s still mind-blowing how guys like Hunter and McCarty can simultaneously play both the bass and guitar parts.
McCarty actually plays a Charlie Hunter model Novak, and putting an ear on his second album Roux Steady with his Kelly McCarty 3 trio, it’s easy to spot the similarities in the sound between the two. There are several places where McCarty, like Hunter, uses those bottom five strings to mimic a keyboard, especially the Hammond B-3 organ. But McCarty’s his own musician, too: he’s got a lighter touch on those guitar strings, while his bass lines are quite active compared to Charlie’s. McCarty’s formal studies have come mainly from the bass, so that’s undoubtedly influenced his approach.
Assisted by tenor saxman John A. Diaz-Cortes and drummer A.J. Hall, the Kelly McCarty 3 is a quartet played by three musicians. Roux Steady (a reference to both the New Orleans and Jamaican pedigree of this music), presents a set of tunes contributed invariably by all three, played in a style rooted in both bop and roots rhythm music…very much like Hunter’s stellar mid-90s output, as a matter of fact. McCarty cedes most of the solo space to his bandmates, preferring to set them up to thrive. “Hooverville” (video below) begins with a snappy rocksteady-influenced number highlighted by Diaz-Cortes’ thick, burly sax. “Silky Johnson Suite” moves the music to the Big Easy, with Hall delivering the second line with a lot of swing. Hall’s sweet sultry soul of “Audrey” is another bright spot, with McCarty adding the right coloring to the melody and Diaz-Cortes supplying the warmth.
It might be a bit unfair to compare the Kelly McCarty 3 to Charlie Hunter’s early trios and quartets so much, but as that music was some of the best fusion of the time and Hunter has largely moved on from that era, I greet Roux Steady with a lot of enthusiasm. Sure, this group has its own little twists but taking a nostalgia trip back to this style of acid jazz makes the listening all the more better.
Roux Steady is slated for release August 28, by Offsuit Records. Visit Kelly McCarty’s website for more info.