The result is Roads & Codes, Carey's most ambitious and fully realized recording to date, which will be released February 19 by his Kabocha Records label. Recorded in an 11-hour, nine-tune marathon in early June 2012, the music on the new CD was inspired by the compositional skills of seminal figures like Jimmy Giuffre, Bill Holman, Teddy Charles, Andrew Hill, George Russell, Herbie Hancock, and Maria Schneider (with whom he studied at New School in New York City). Delving into his lush and intricate original compositions as well as his renditions of music by Stravinsky, Charles Ives, and Neil Young, Carey artfully maintains a precarious balance between finely calibrated arrangements and unfettered improvisation.
What elevates Roads & Codes from an audacious experiment to an impressive jazz achievement is Carey's stellar band, a highly cohesive ensemble for which he's been composing since 2002. The only newcomer is the +1 alto saxophonist Kasey Knudsen, a Dolphyan player who has earned a vaunted reputation for her work with several noteworthy ensembles.
A longtime admirer of Knudsen's work, Carey recruited her to expand the textural possibilities of his long-running quintet. She provided a creative jolt with a "musical language that's amazing to me," Carey says. "She doesn't do anything in a simple or predictable way." The quintet's charter members include tenor saxophonist/flutist Evan Francis, who has since departed for New York City, pianist Adam Shulman, bassist Fred Randolph, and drummer Jon Arkin, all musicians in high demand.
Roads & Codes is further distinguished by Carey's design and illustration work for the CD package. He incorporated his love of graphic novels and Japanese manga into Roads & Codes, including the slyly self-referential cover art that explains his illustrations as part of a strategy for attracting a wider audience. Expertly mixing his two creative outlets, Carey produced beautifully rendered illustrations to represent each tune.
Carey, 38, is also an active music blogger, and generated considerable attention recently (from Twitter to CNN.com) for his essay "How Not to Become a Bitter White Jazz Musician" (written in response to the backlash toward accomplished trumpeter Nicholas Payton's campaign to rename jazz "Black American Music"). In his blog he's also pondered the benefits of jazz philanthropy, and whether an endowment that provided steady gigs in smaller venues might be of more practical use to jazz musicians, and to the future of the music, than a multi-million-dollar building and jazz center.
Born and raised in a musical family in Binghamton, New York, Ian Carey moved with his family to Folsom, California (near Sacramento) in time for high school, where he was inspired to begin studying jazz trumpet seriously. He studied classical trumpet for two years at the University of Nevada in Reno (also performing with the Reno Philharmonic), then enrolled in the New School in New York City and earned a B.A. in Jazz and Contemporary Music.
While in New York, Carey performed with the likes of Eddie Bert, Rory Stuart, and Ravi Coltrane, and at venues such as the Blue Note and Smalls. He led his own Brooklyn-based quartet for several years before moving to San Francisco in 2001.
In addition to leading his quintet, Carey has played around the Bay Area with the Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, 8 Legged Monster, the Tommy Igoe Big Band, the Realistic Orchestra, saxophonist Noel Jewkes, vocalist Betty Fu, pianist Ben Stolorow, and accordionist Rob Reich's Circus Bella All-Star Band. His main focus, however, has been on composing and performing original music with the quintet.
"The title of the album is about musical journeys and hidden meanings," Carey says, "and this band is the ideal group to take my blueprints and make those journeys and meanings come to life. I wrote every arrangement with these particular voices in mind, so I couldn't ask for a better set of musical personalities to make it happen."
The Ian Carey Quintet+1 will be performing a CD release show, Thursday 2/21, at the Sound Room, 2147 Broadway, Oakland, 8:00 pm. Tickets are $15 and available at www.soundroom.org.