Jazz CD Reviews
Mark Sherman Quartet – Live at the Bird’s Eye – Miles High Records
Published on September 21, 2008
Mark Sherman Quartet – Live at the Bird’s Eye – Miles High Records, MHR 8606 (2 CDs) 49:19, 57:15 ****:
(Mark Sherman – vibraphone; Allen Farnham – piano; Dean Johnson – bass; Tim Horner – drums)
Vibraphonist Mark Sherman does not yet have Milt Jackson or Gary Burton’s name recognition, but it is only a matter of time before Sherman is lauded alongside stalwarts such as Bobby Hutcherson or Walt Dickerson. Sherman’s new double-disc live album, recorded at the Bird’s Eye Jazz Club in Basel, Switzerland, is a consistently captivating showcase for Sherman and his talented quartet. The ten tunes adopt a mostly up-tempo, post-bop design. Some listeners may expect an introspective, low-energy inclination, because other vibes and piano pairings have generally offered a quiet deportment. Such is not the case here.
The four musicians erupt right out of the gate with an exhilarating, blues-derived audience grabber, “Tip Top Blues,” which acts as an introduction for the band members, since the eleven-minute tumbler affords room for each player to contribute vibrant, spirited solos. Allen Farnham, in particular, is in peak form, effortlessly darting through melodic improvisations at high speed while retaining the song’s expressive core.
The foursome follows with one of Sherman’s newer compositions, “The Winning Life,” which has a strong melodic hook and reveals a frontward momentum that earmarks Sherman as a songwriter who may just now be hitting his stride. The group goes through several key changes that emphasize the ensemble’s long-term musical association and innate communication. The concert’s incandescence is constrained slightly on the affectionate “Trust,” a cool ballad which evokes Milt Jackson’s mid-‘50s work, and is full of extended phrases, and serpentine vibraphone sustains. The 4-over-3 polyrhythm used in the melody abets the song, creating an object of thorough beauty. This cut also makes for a fine match with Farnham’s graceful “Hope,” which is a different interpretation of a track previously found on Sherman’s album One Step Closer. It’s a sure bet anyone familiar with the studio version will appreciate this stimulating live dividend. Disc one ends with the heightened “Hardship,” a flare-up that exhibits a volley of vibraphone and piano highlights. Dean Johnson goads and urges his cohorts with his rich, aggressive bass. He steadily pushes the piece’s motion forward and upward. Johnson is a perfect foil and complement, delivering a rhythmic fullness and harmonic astuteness.
John Coltane is one of Sherman’s acknowledged influences, and Coltrane’s harmonic innovations are shadowed on “Explorations,” a commanding track that opens disc two. Sherman and the quartet convincingly carry on the concert’s potent level of invigorating musicianship, while Tim Horner’s hustling, varied drumming, and percussive anchor-point bolsters Sherman’s vibes.
Standards round out the live presentation. The quartet gives “You Don’t Know What Love Is” a swinging, Latinized tinge that uplifts the oft-performed missive to fresh heights and again provides plenty of space for group improvisations. “There Is No Greater Love” comes next, and finds the four musicians easing down to a straightforward, moderate tempo, with Horner’s brushes shading the rhythmic undercurrents.
The set finishes with a vertically askew “Tip Top Rhythm,” which echoes the 32-bar form introduced during “Tip Top Blues,” and as an encore, a luminous rendition of Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” which Sherman and his bandmates furnish as a lyrical goodnight gift, stressing melody while also re-harmonizing the well-heeled pop hit. “Moon River” also functions as a suitable closing act, bringing the evening’s concentrated musical invention to completion. Seeing Mark Sherman at a jazz venue is the best way to experience his quartet, but since that is not possible for all listeners, Live at the Bird’s Eye is a worthy second-best, with attentively recorded sound capturing the band’s compelling outing.
1 Tip Top Blues
2 The Winning Life
2 You Don’t Know What Love Is
3 There Is No Greater Love
4 Tip Top Rhythm
5 Moon River
— Doug Simpson