“You write like an abstract painter,” a fan told Marc Cary after his Focus Trio’s Saturday night set at Bohemian Caverns. She had a point. Cary’s compositions and arrangements were unconventional and oblong, an idiosyncratic style that extended to his angular keyboard playing and his instrumentation (two synthesizers as well as the club’s Yamaha grand piano for Cary, Indian tablas in addition to Sameer Gupta’s drum kit, whose cymbals were draped in rags). Simultaneously, though, Cary (a native Washingtonian who now resides in New York) and his band — which featured D.C. tenor saxophonist Brian Settles in addition to Gupta and bassist Tarus Mateen — could not have played an earthier, more soulful set.
There was no question, for example, about the abstraction in the nearly 20-minute take on Jackie McLean’s “Minor March.” It largely consisted of an emphatic vamp led by Settles, most of it just one note, with Mateen and Gupta following in breakneck swing; the McLean melody came in dashed-off form on Cary’s piano, easily mistaken for a passing whim. That swing, though, kept the tune grounded and tough, with Settles and Cary prodding each other to give it more oomph with each new phrase. Cary, especially, packed a soulful punch — his solo was fraught with blues licks and long, joyful gospel lines.