Joe McCarthy and New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band Upwards


  1. Upwards
  2. JBen Jazz
  3. Caravan
  4. Five for Elvin
  5. Nostalgia in Time
  6. Isabelita
  7. Afternoon in Paris
  8. Positano

The New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band:

Drums, band leader: Joe McCarthy
Saxes: Matt Hong, Kristy Norter, Ben Kono, Dave Riekenberg, Eden Bareket
Trombones: Sara Jacovino, John Yao, Sam Blakeslee, Jen Hinkle
Trumpets: Nick Marchione, Raul Agraz. Bryan Davis, Dave Smith
Guitar: Vinny Valentino
Piano: Manuel Valera
Bass: Boris Kozlov
Percussion: Samuel Torres

“However, this album belongs to Mr McCarthy. The drummer and leader treats every work with painstaking care and inspires his musicians to interiorise the narratives and emotions of each work and give of themselves with metaphoric ingenuity. Moreover his approach to percussion [always ably aided and abetted by the wonderful Samuel Torres and the partnership is on exquisite display on “Caravan”] is wonderfully modernist and he gives melodies and harmonies a [rhythmic] percussive attack that is thunderously vivid and compelling. His playing is beautiful throughout. It’s no wonder that this is why, with its eight gleaming gems of music, Upwards ends up sounding as the best album that Mr McCarthy and The Afro Bop Alliance have recorded so far.” — Raul Da Gama, Latin Jazz Network

“Dizzy Gillespie’s keen interest in melding 1940s bebop with Afro-Cuban music was spurred by his knowledge that swing (and jazz in general) would not have been possible without the ancient rhythms of Africa and its diaspora. Drummer Joe McCarthy’s Afro Bop Alliance Big Band represents a direct lineage. Now in its 20th year, McCarthy has relocated his big band from D.C. to New York City, where a larger pool of players is poised to aggressively fuse international music with jazz, utilizing unlimited musical possibilities.

Afro Bop Alliance’s powerhouse brass and sinewy saxophones make for an excellent session. At the heart of it all is the rhythm section, driven by McCarthy on drum set and further propelled by percussionist Samuel Torres, guitarist Vinny Valentino, pianist Manuel Valera and bassist Boris Kazlov. Duple- and triple-beat interplay is the essence of clave, the rhythmic pattern driving many types of Latin music. Afro Bop Alliance takes clave to the next level by having entire sections of songs seamlessly weave duple and triple meter. The results are exciting and highly complex.

Two stylized standards (“Afternoon in Paris,” “Caravan”) show that this big band can refresh old war horses. However, original compositions by band members display the depth of creativity available in the vast realm of contemporary Latin jazz. Valera’s title track is a veritable tour de force, featuring Matt Hong’s alto and an open section for drum set and percussion. Kozlov’s “Nostalgia in Time” typifies the set with its atypical extended song form and Valentino’s retro, 1970s-era, wah-wah guitar solo. The guitarist’s “J Ben Jazz” fluctuates between 6/8 (triple) and 4/4 (duple) meters, creating ample intensity while setting up Kozlov’s fluid electric bass feature. “Isabelita” and “Positano,” penned by Valera and Valentino respectively, are lyrical ballads that defy formulaic compositional devices in favor of total surprise.

Hats off to McCarthy and his Afro Bop Alliance Big Band for further proving that jazz will never be stymied as it encompasses numerous cultures in democratic fashion.” — James Rozzi, Jazziz

“Joe McCarthy’s ascent as one of today’s strongest practitioners of Nuyorican Afro-Latin jazz continues with the irrepressible Upwards. The drummer steers The New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band through an enticing program of originals and three standards with sparkling energy and finesse. Like Art Blakey, McCarthy allows his combo to become a vehicle for bandmates to exercise their compositional skills. Pianist Manuel Valera wrote the punchy title-track, which comes along with a sashaying motif that recalls Wayne Shorter’s “Beauty and the Beast”. Valera, however, loads “Upwards” with zigzagging contrapuntal lines and rubato rhythmic shifts, on top of which alto saxophonist Matt Hong and trombonist John Yao issue dynamic solos. Meanwhile, guitarist Vinny Valentino’s “J Ben Jazz” showcases the band in a more pastoral mood while retaining an infectious rhythmic pulse.

With the emphasis on compositions and impressive solos from ensemble players, it’s tempting to underestimate the leader’s instrumental prowess. McCarthy certainly doesn’t hog the spotlight, but his rhythmic agility and accord with percussionist Samuel Torres can’t be ignored.” – John Murph, DownBeat Magazine

“On his second ZOHO release, drummer Joe McCarthy leads his impressive, NY based large ensemble through two vintage jazz numbers and six colorful pieces written by current and past band members. While there are many big bands on the scene, there none quite like this. That the band can move quickly from angular, intervallic runs to lush, pensive moments is a testament to the virtuosity of its performers and the artistic suppleness of its leader.” – Kabir Sehgal

“Congratulations to Joe and his band mates for creatively pushing Latin big band jazz forward in exciting new directions!”   –— Rich DeRosa

Additional Press for Upwards

Latin Jazz Network
Midwest Record
The Drum Shuffle
Sea of Tranquility
Step Tempest