Joe McCarthy’s New York Afro-Bop Alliance Big Band: Pan-American Nutcracker Suite

A review of the drummer-led 18-piece band’s version of the endearing classic

Ken Micallef

While most jazz aficionados consider Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s 1960 interpretation of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet The Nutcracker to be the final jazz word on the famous orchestral work, journeyman drummer Joe McCarthy upends that notion with the Pan American Nutcracker Suite, his version of the endearing classic.

McCarthy’s 18-piece big band includes trumpeter Brandon Lee, alto saxophonist Andrew Gould, bari saxophonist Frank Basile, trombonist Ryan Keberle, pianist Luis Perdomo, and bassist Boris Kozlov, performing brilliant arrangements (by the bandleader) that slap the senses silly in unexpected ways. This band plays as one, a rock-’em-sock-’em machine that exhorts ferocious Afro-Cuban rhythms as easily as it unleashes powerful solos.