Eric McGarry, As I Am, As You Were Review
As I Am, As You Were: Eric McGarry’s Musical Exploration of Change and Self-Discovery
by Nolan DeBuke
Eric McGarry is a guitarist, composer, and educator based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He graduated from the University of the Arts with a Master of Music in Jazz Studies and has studied with prominent guitarists such as Dave Allen, Matt Davis, Tim Motzer, Kevin Hanson, Mike Kennedy, and Ben O’Neill. His main creative project is the Eric McGarry Quintet, which focuses on performing his original compositions. He has been recognized for his talent and contributions to jazz, including being named a recipient of the Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency and a Jazz Philadelphia’s Core Cooperative member.
McGarry released his debut album, As I Am, As You Were, on January 27, 2023. The album features McGarry on electric and acoustic guitars, Micah Graves on piano and Fender Rhodes, Mervin Toussaint on alto saxophone, Pete Dennis on upright bass, and Steven Perry on drums. All compositions are by Eric McGarry, and the album is produced by Ross Bellenoit and Eric McGarry, recorded at Turtle Studios, and mastered by Doug Raus.
A recurring theme in McGarry’s album, As I Am, As You Were, is change and examining the self in the face of this change. This theme is reflected in the natural world, personal relationships, and thoughts on authenticity and identity. Moreover, there is a focus on the nature of change and its impact on one’s self-perception and worldview. Given this theme, two songs that provide an exciting insight into McGarry’s music are “Inhale, Exhale,” and “Transcendence.”
Drawing parallels to life’s automatic yet ever-changing rhythms, “Inhale, Exhale” is a sophisticated metaphor for the cyclical nature of change, embodied in a composition that sings with a rhythmic evocativeness of life’s persistent patterns. The interplay between bass and piano, harmonizing with the melody masterfully articulated by McGarry and Graves, is a great use of counterpoint. With a modern jazz vibe that’s as infectious as it is compelling, the composition unravels, revealing layers of musical exploration.
McGarry’s solo, infused with warm distortion and enriched by carefully selected delay and reverb, presents a modern jazz guitar tone that sustains and sings, harmonizing perfectly with the underlying rhythm. His linear ideas beautifully maintain a reference to the underlying harmony and are informed by his adept musicianship.
Toussaint’s solo, meanwhile, is an emotional crescendo, supported by Graves’ dynamic chordal patterns, encapsulating a sense of intense movement and change. The ensemble demonstrates a remarkable ability to work and listen in unison, creating a musical journey that resonates with power and emotion. “Inhale, Exhale” is a profoundly impactful auditory experience, reflecting the subtle beauty of life’s continuous cycles of change through McGarry’s compositional stylings.
“Transcendence” is a musical metaphor for personal growth and progression, symbolizing the transformative journey of rising above challenges and navigating change. This composition captures the listener’s imagination with its meditative and introspective sonic palette and rhythmic textures, invoking a more profound self-examination in the face of change.
With an opening by Graves that subtly echoes elements of gospel, the melody unfurls in a tapestry of beauty. Graves and Toussaint construct a compelling solo section, a harmonious blend of jazz and gospel that elevates the listener to a plane of musical contemplation. McGarry’s transition to acoustic guitar introduces a refreshing change in texture, further enriching the piece’s sonic landscape.
The composition’s vitality springs from the ensemble’s cohesive chemistry and astute listening skills, resulting in an immersive listening experience that is both compelling and resonant. In essence, “Transcendence” is more than a piece of music; it is a harmonious narrative of personal growth, a testament to the transformative power of change, and a symbol of the beauty found within the journey of self-discovery.
Throughout, the compositions on As I Am, As You Were, offer a rich exploration of change and self-discovery, encapsulating McGarry’s unique artistic vision and craftsmanship as a composer. “Inhale, Exhale” and “Transcendence” exemplify his ability to translate complex themes into captivating musical narratives, each offering an intimate reflection of life’s cyclical nature and the transformative journey of personal growth.
Through his compositions, McGarry and his ensemble invite us to contemplate the nature of change, prompting us to reflect on our own experiences and personal journeys and inspiring us to embrace the ever-present rhythm of life. McGarry’s musical expertise and ability to weave profound themes into the fabric of his compositions are a welcome addition to the modern jazz library.