Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Deliciously Cool Reinterpretations from Mark Sherman

Vibraphonist Mark Sherman’s latest album The LA Sessions – out now on the Miles High label -has a visceral West Coast cool to it, occasionally to the point of being Twin Peaks music. Which is especially interesting considering that Sherman is a real powerhouse: his 2010 DVD recorded at the old Sweet Rhythm in Manhattan presents him in showstopper hard-bop mode. Tempos here are upbeat for the most part, but with playing that’s restrained and tightly focused, Sherman blending timbres with Bill Cunliffe’s B3 organ for a lusciously chilly sound and a seamless chemistry with veteran guitarist John Chiodini and drummer Charles Ruggiero. Sherman’s style here has a rippling, straightforward insistence, Cunliffe alternating between sostenuto scamper, lush washes of chords and frequent hard-bop runs over tirelessly swinging pedal lines. As is usually the case on a session like this, Ruggiero doesn’t get many opportunities to be ostentatious, but makes the most of them, whether signaling an unexpected shift or, in the case of the slinky opening track – an icily intriguing take of Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody ‘n You – trading artful and counterintuitive bars with each of his bandmates in turn.

Other than Sherman’s Far Away, an unexpectedly dreamy lullaby, the album puts an original spin on a collection of standards. Counting the bonus tracks, there are actually a couple of takes of Woody ‘n You, along with Bud Powell’s Celia – each of those done with a remarkably terse bounce, muting the creepy edges of the original – and Charlie Parker’s Quasimodo, in both instances swinging with a coy suspense. Even when Cunliffe cuts loose with a lickety-split, spiraling attack, there’s no crescendo per se other than the sheer velocity of the notes.

It Could Happen to You works its way out of a maze of syncopation to a brisk swing and a tersely memorable series of handoffs from guitar, to organ, to vibes. The version of Benny Golson’s Whisper Not ventures into noir territory, Chiodini’s casually bluesy solo providing contrasting brightness. From there they transform Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice into chicken shack bop. The longest cut here, Milt Jackson’s Bag’s Groove morphs matter-of-factly from pensive soul to a swinging, gospel-tinged blues before going back to its shadowy beginnings: in its own air-conditioned way, it more than does justice to the more raw but equally brooding original. And Miles Davis’ Serpent’s Tooth has Chiodini’s biting chordal attack setting up yet another direct yet expansive Sherman solo. All this sets a mood and pretty much doesn’t waver. Can we get another couple martinis over here? It’s still happy hour, isn’t it?

August 14, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eddie Mendenhall’s New One: Bad Title, Excellent Album

Don’t let the title fool you: jazz pianist Eddie Mendenhall’s new album Cosine Meets Tangent isn’t exactly cold and mathematical. Even on the slow numbers, this is a hot session, ablaze with energy and good vibes (pun intended). Mendenhall leads a quartet with the reliably intense, aggressive Mark Sherman on vibes, Akira Tana on drums, and John Schifflett on bass. Ironically, the most potent number here is also the slowest one. The stately, pensive Lament for the Ocean is basically a seven-minute Mendenhall solo that builds to the point where it swerves away and looks like it’s going to miss its mark…but then Mendenhall ups the intensity with some chromatically-fueled menace. It’s one of the best songs to come over the transom this year.

The rest of the album blazes with inspired playing and vividly melodic compositions. Sherman wastes no time in pouncing on the opening cut, Protocol, with its marvelously intricate piano/vibraphone chart, scurrying and scampering with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek loungey vibe. Mendenhall enters almost imperceptibly on the heels of this excursion and then matter-of-factly picks up the pace to where Sherman can race away with it again. Spring Waltz begins counterintuitively with a judicious bass solo and expands to where it looks like everything’s in bud. The bossa-flavored Rain Hike has Sherman riding the groove with clenched-teeth intensity, alternating inspired segments with the piano, Mendenhall coming out of the last Sherman volley with similar fire but bringing it down gracefully in seconds flat.

They do the Rodgers/Hart ballad So Easy to Remember as tense, suspenseful swing – it’s a clinic in restraint, especially seeing as the band seems to want to jump out of their shoes but holds back. Sherman’s catchy, somewhat wry The Great Triplet is yet another showcase for more sizzle across the keys of the vibes; it contrasts vividly with the brief, astringent, unselfconsciously gripping Morning Stretch. There’s also the brisk, distantly Asian-tinged swing number Rin Ki On Hen; Blues for Yokohama, another upbeat tune with hints of ragtime piano and a sly, scampering drum solo; and the cleverly syncopated, unpredictable title track. File this under party jazz: put this on and the cognoscenti will want to know who this is.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

DVD Review: The Mark Sherman Quintet Live at Sweet Rhythm

The most recent jazz album we reviewed was stoner jazz. The one before that was free jazz. This is straight-up party jazz, as you would imagine you’d get at a live gig by vibraphonist Mark Sherman. He picked a good date to record, in fact at one of the last shows at venerable New York jazz club Sweet Rhythm (formerly Sweet Basil). Sherman is joined here by Joe Magnarelli on trumpet and flugelhorn, Allen Farnham on piano, Dean Johnson on bass and Tim Horner on drums. It’s an interesting configuration, the choice of piano and vibraphone joining to create some especially incisive, percussive textures, especially since Farnham is not limited to simply comping chords while Sherman carries a tune. It’s something akin to having both an acoustic piano and a Rhodes in the band, except that neither ever gets in the other’s way.The crew here typically follow the time-honored formula of stating the melody followed by various solo spotlights; all compositions are originals by Sherman other than the gently soulful ballad Hope, by Farnham, and Monk’s Trinkle Tinkle, where the band look under the hood and discover its inner imp. Sherman is a purist: he goes for melody, doesn’t overreach or overembellish and the band follows suit, delivering smart and inspired improvisations on a lot of memorable hooks. These are expansive performance, most of them clocking in at ten minutes at a clip. And Sherman really loves his triplets – this show has more than any in recent memory.

The strongest track here is the aptly titled The Winning Life, a swinging triplet shuffle where after almost a whole set of terse, thoughtful playing, Sherman finally cuts loose with some lightning-fast runs and Farnham does the same. Piano and drums then have a lot of fun straightening out the rhythm and then letting it go again. The Great Trip is a terrific ensemble showcase, Magnarelli eventually getting to choose his spots judiciously against the sway and crash of the swinging rhythm section. Farnham gets restless; Magnarelli brings the central hook back with majesty and soul. There’s also the slightly Brazilian-tinged Hardship (meaning complexity, it would seem, because it’s absolutely exuberant); the warmly lyrical, briskly shuffling Little Lullaby, with its jauntily bluesy tinges; the catchy, bouncy Ella Bella, another swing shuffle and a couple of ballads. Like the performance, the videography is no-nonsense. Shots of the band pan in during solos: the musicians go about their work in businesslike fashion without any mugging. Happily, the recording is cd quality: if you have your machine hooked up to a good system, you’ll get a clear picture of how good the concert sounded in the club that night.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment