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SF Bay Area Trumpeter-Composer Ian Carey Pays Homage To His Late Artist Father On 'Strange Arts,' To Be Released March 22 On Slow & Steady Records


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My father even used the phrase 'abhor a vacuum,' which is something I had also said about my composing! I started to see how this could be a kind of dialogue between us.
—Ian Carey
Ian Carey
Ian Carey extends his oeuvre of unique, ambitious chamber jazz with Strange Arts, set for a March 22 release on Slow & Steady Records. Carey’s seventh album is also the Bay Area trumpeter-composer’s first with his septet Wood Metal Plastic, which augments a working quartet—featuring alto saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, bassist Lisa Mezzacappa, and drummer Jon Arkin—with the free-wheeling string trio of cellist Jessica Ivry and violinists Alisa Rose and Mia Bella d’Augelli, resulting in a nimble unit that brings together the spheres of jazz, modern chamber music, and free improvisation.

Recorded in 2019, Strange Arts pays tribute to Carey’s father, the noted and innovative visual artist Philip Carey (who passed away in 2022). As the curator of his archive, Ian Carey gained an intimate understanding of much of his father’s work, which included vibrantly illustrated envelopes, wall-sized collages created from grocery packaging and medical trash, and detailed and humorous drawings of his vivid dreams—and, in its density and voluminous surprises, found a fruitful connection with his own.

“I even found an interview of him using the phrase ‘abhor a vacuum’ to describe the intricacy of his art, which is something I had also said about my composing!” Carey remarks. “I started to see how this could be a kind of dialogue between us.”

Ironically, Carey first conceived the ensemble with the idea of turning away from his previous elaborately composed works. He had the best of intentions to “try something simpler, writing one-page charts and making it all about the improvisation.” However, a grant from InterMusic SF inspired him to expand the project with strings, which in turn led to an exploration of the new textural and interactive possibilities the ensemble afforded him.

It's these possibilities that animate “Set for 7,” the five-part piece that makes up most of Strange Arts. The opening “Chorale” is a space primarily for counterpoint between Carey’s trumpet and Knudsen’s alto (but with no small amount of assertion from Mezzacappa, Arkin, and the strings); “Ostinato” and “Unforeseen (CGBG)” create contexts against which the relationships between instruments frequently reset themselves; the through-composed “Nocturne for Solo Violin” provides a showcase for violinist Rose; and “Alien Anthropology” gives the unusual combo a deconstructed bebop twist.

While “Set for 7” was the commission for which Carey received the InterMusic SF grant, he also happily took the opportunity to take Wood Metal Plastic for a spin on two pieces in his existing book (“Rain Tune” and “Sink/Swim”), as well as a previously unrecorded composition, “I Still Remember Clyfford Still,” saluting another (titular) visual artist. Even a five-movement extended composition isn’t enough to contain all of Carey’s ideas.

Ian Carey was born July 24, 1974 in Binghamton, New York, moving to the Sacramento, California area when he was 13. Both parents were visual artists and his father was also a choral vocalist (who toured with the Grammy-winning Gregg Smith Singers in the 1960s and recorded with Stravinsky), giving Carey a foundation not just in music but in creativity and curiosity.

Starting on cornet, then French horn, Carey settled on trumpet when he found his way into the famous Folsom High School Jazz Band program, then in its infancy but already quite prestigious. From there, he studied classical trumpet at the University of Nevada, Reno, then transferred to the New School in New York to focus on jazz and composition, studying with greats like Reggie Workman, Billy Harper, and Maria Schneider. After a few frustrating years in New York City dealing with the challenges of balancing the musical life with a necessary day job, Carey returned to the West Coast, quickly settling into the robust San Francisco Bay Area jazz scene where he is still working and thriving to this day.

Carey built a working quintet with which he recorded his first two albums, 2006’s Sink/Swimand 2010’s Contextualizin’, before augmenting it with Kasey Knudsen on alto and recording Roads and Codes(included in DownBeat’s “Best of 2013” issue) with the newly dubbed Ian Carey Quintet+1. That was the ensemble that Carey navigated through his next two highly ambitious projects, the long-form but determinedly non-programmatic composition Interview Music in 2016 and the Chamber Music America-commissioned Fire in My Head, an examination of his own lifelong struggles with anxiety, in 2020.

While Strange Arts is the worldwide premiere of the Wood Metal Plasticseptet, Carey also continues to work throughout the Bay Area with the Quintet+1 (featuring Wood Metal Plastic’s Knudsen and drummer Jon Arkin) as well as an organ trio that performs what Carey calls “a pared-down, street food-style version of my tunes.”

Ian Carey and Wood Metal Plastic will perform a CD release show at Oaktown Jazz Workshops, 55 Washington Street in Oakland, on Sunday 4/7.

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Track Listing

Rain Tune, I Still Remember Clyfford Still, Set for 7: Chorale, Sink/Swim, Set for 7: Ostinato, Set for 7: Nocturne for Solo Violin, Set for 7: Unforeseen (CGBG), Set for 7: Alien Anthropology.


Ian Carey
Kasey Knudsen
saxophone, alto
Lisa Mezzacappa
bass, acoustic
Alisa Rose
Jon Arkin

Album information

Title: Strange Arts | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Slow And Steady Records





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