Seeking Higher Ground
By Scott Yanow
The Maguire Twins have accomplished much in a short time. The twin brothers, just 22, are already world class jazz musicians who hold their own on stage and in the recording studios with top all-stars, offering tasteful and stimulating accompaniment along with occasional solos of their own.
Born in Tokyo and raised in Hong Kong, Alan Maguire remembers, “Our older brother is the reason that we began playing music. He played guitar and wanted to create a band so I started playing bass and Carl became a drummer. We had a rock band for a short time.” Although their brother soon stopped playing music, the bug had bitten Alan and Carl and they dedicated themselves to music
After moving with their family to Memphis when they were 15, they met two important forces in their lives: pianist Donald Brown and saxophonist Kirk Whalum. “Kirk was the the Stax Artist in Residence and he was very supportive of us,” says Carl. “Almost every month he would bring in a different artist for the students to hear play. I remember seeing Charles Lloyd and his band which totally blew our minds.’ Alan adds, ‘The band’s rhythm section was great. The fluidity of Reuben Rogers and the rhythmic complicity of Eric Harland completely changed the way we perceived the music. From then on, we wanted to play jazz.” In 2013, the Maguires met Donald Brown who soon became their mentor. “We were very lucky to have lessons early on from him,” continues Carl. “He’s a musical genius who truly inspired us.”
In 2014, Carl and Alan released their first CD, “The Sound Of Music”, utilizing both Brown and Whalum. “We recorded the entire album in one 12-hour session,” says Carl. “We recorded 9 songs and did not know that normally it should take two or three days!” Since then, the Maguires have performed various venues in the United States including Knoxville Jazz Festival and have toured Japan and Hong Kong.
For Seeking Higher Ground, Carl and Alan Maguire are joined by tenor-saxophonist Gregory Tardy, veteran trumpeter Bill Mobley, and pianist Aaron Goldberg, with Donald Brown (who appears on one selection) producing the project. Alan says, “We listened to pianist Aaron Goldberg when we first started playing jazz and his song “Shed” was the first song that we learned from musicians of his generation. When Donald said that he had gotten him for the date, we were just amazed.” The quintet performs two songs by each of the brothers and Donald Brown, one apiece from Tardy, Goldberg, Mobley, Geoffrey Keezer and Jon Hamar, and a fresh version of a standard.
The set begins with Tardy’s “Theodicy.” The two horns give the music a classic hard bop sound but the complex chord changes, the passionate tenor, trumpet and piano solos, and the assertive drumming of Carl make it clear that this is 21st century jazz. Goldberg’s patterns on the piano set the mood and groove for Keezer’s “Hibiscus.” Alan’s bass lines are a particularly attractive part of this piece which also has fine soprano playing by Tardy and one of many excellent trumpet solos. “The Early Bird Gets The Short End Of The Stick” was composed by Donald Brown before he came to New York and joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. This hard-driving piece inspires several inventive solos particularly from the explorative Tardy. The somber ballad “Clarity” was composed by Alan’s bass teacher Jon Hamar. It features brief statements that perfectly fit the melancholy mood.
Since Aaron Goldberg’s “Shed,” which has a particularly catchy pattern in 5/4 time, was such an important part of Carl and Alan Maguire’s early development, it was a thrill for the brothers to record the song with the composer himself. Listen to how closely and effortlessly Alan and Carl Maguire work with each other.
Alan’s “Song For Arjun,” written in memory of a friend from Hong Kong who died at age 19, is a celebration of life that has a dramatic melody, powerful solo statements, and strong accompaniment by the Maguire Twins. The bassist’s other piece, the mostly out-of-tempo “Witch,” is more avant-garde and utilizes colorful harmonies. A contrast is offered in Mobley’s “49th Street,” a swinging romp through the chord changes of “Lover.” Carl’s “Midair,” which is based on Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” has numerous colorful drum breaks along with fiery solos.
The drummer’s “Machi No Michi” pays tribute to the Maguires’ heritage with an Asian tinge to the melody, a Japanese scale in the bassline, and the feel of taiko drums throughout. Donald Brown’s “An Island, A Piano, And Keith,” is an upbeat number originally written for his son pianist Keith Brown. This rewarding CD concludes with Alan’s arrangement of “Someday My Prince Will Come” which greatly modernizes the song, uses a completely different chord progression, and inspires some particularly strong improvising.
Seeking Higher Ground covers a wide area of music from bebop to the avant-garde. It is a major step forward for Carl and Alan Maguire, two young musicians whose potential is being realized.
Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books including Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz On Film