Project Them: No Van Morrison in This Band
Vibraphonist Mark Sherman and tenor saxophonist Bob Franceschini are old friends from the NYC scene since their days as classmates at the High School of Music and Art, dreaming of having a band together and doing whatever other things up-and-coming jazz guys did back in the 70s. At last, now they have that band, wryly calling themselves Project Them, and an interesting and rewardingly tuneful album out from Miles High that follows what was by all accounts an energetic and well-received European tour. The crew here also includes Mitchel Forman on piano and organ, Martin Djakonovski on bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums, You might not expect such lyricism as there is here from a bunch of guys with reps as hardbop heavy-hitters with virtuoso chops and intellectual rigor to match.
But there is. Sherman’s Submissive Dominants kicks off the album with a hard-hitting, cinematic latin-tinged theme, which they take swinging with an expansive sax solo that goes from scanning the horizon to skimming over it, Sherman echoing that approach over a lightly galloping pulse. Franceschini’s Sleight of Hand is next, adding a wickedly catchy hint of funk in the same vein as Ken Fowser and Behn Gillece’s recent jukebox jazz work,
Nussbaum’s We 3 begins as a balmy ballad and picks up with sunny sax over lingering vibes and a slowly dancing rhythm. Solitude, by Sherman, considers the upside to being alone, calm and catchy with hints of Steely Dan and Pat Metheny.The South Song, by Djakonovski, works understated, tersely modal territory, Froman’s spacious guitarlike piano chords handing off to Sherman’s meticulously expansive solo and then a similarly considered, upper midrange, woodtoned one from the composer. Franceschini’s Minor Turns brings back the jaunty syncopation of the second track, Froman switching to organ behind the sax’s lively clusters.
They do Johnny Mandel’s Close Enough for Love with almost a reggae pulse, and then a couple of numbers with Italian pianist Paolo di Sabatino, who contributes Short Swing – a funky minor blues in disguise – and Ma Bo’s Waltz, which nicks a very, very familiar theme immortalized by Coltrane. The album ends up with Sherman’s Angular Blues, an organ tune that raises the ante with the album’s most vigorous departure into the bop that these guys have in their fingers.
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