Sherman Irby & Momentum – Cerulean Canvas – Black Warriors Records BWR 1006 – 76:20 – ****1/2  <Street Date – 10/20/17>

Flat out great…!

(Sherman Irby – alto sax; Vincent Gardner – trombone; Eric Reed – piano; Gerald Cannon – bass; Willie Jones III – drums; Elliott Mason – trombone (#3, 4, 5); Wynton Marsalis – trumpet (#8, 10 )

It’s not often when a CD on first listen just reaches out and grabs you. There usually is a track or two where the listening experience weakens a bit. The new CD from Sherman Irby and his band, Momentum, is that rare CD with no flaws or filler. Cerulean Canvas, is Irby’s fifth issue for his label, Black Warriors Records. It honors many of Sherman’s band mates, and it does it with class, soul, and first class presentation.

Irby’s present band, Momentum, is made up of trombonist, Vincent Gardner, pianist Eric Reed, bassist Gerald Cannon, and drummer, Willie Jones III. Irby is the lead alto saxophonist for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Its leader, Wynton Marsallis, plays on two tracks. Guest trombonist, Elliott Mason, is also from JLCO, as is Gardner. Eric Reed also spent time with Marsalis. Bassist Cannon seems to be playing everywhere and his new CD, Combinations, is first rate.

Right out of the box, this CD swings hard. “Racine” was written for bassist Cannon, as he was born and raised in this Wisconsin town. Gerald anchors the tune with both its extended beginning and its closure. It has a groove that is intoxicating and an edginess that both intrigues and inspires. Both Gardner and Reed take leads that complement Irby’s creative chart. “Blues for Poppa Reed” is for Eric. It’s opening riff brought to mind Count Basie, as Eric also shows the talent for the use of space and a “less is more” talent. Cannon once again shines on his solo.

“From Day to Day” was written by pianist Mulgrew Miller, whom we lost much too early. It has a sweet waltz feel and a gorgeous sax/trombone blend mid-tune. Guest trombonist, Elliott Mason fits right in immediately. “Willie’s Beat: AKA, The Sweet Science” written for Momentum drummer, Willie Jones III, is a burner with Irby escalating the tempo and blowing a righteous storm, and Mason providing a heavy bottom end trombone. Reed propels the tune with his fleet keyboard work.

“Contemplation” from Wayne Shorter is a sumptuous elegant ballad, with Mason taking lead on the melody. “Smile Please” gives a jazz treatment to a Stevie Wonder tune. Irby handles the melody with a bluesy swagger  and Eric Reed’s swing feel stands out. “Blue Twirl: A Portrait of Sam Gilliam” was written to honor the African American painter of the Washington Color School period. It was written by Vincent Gardner, and Gerald Cannon’s bass is muscular and warm like a reunion hug.

“John Bishop Blues” was written by Irby for his favorite Bar B Que owner in his home town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It drips grease like the barbecue man it honors. Wynton Marsalis’ trumpet entry is a clarion call. Irby made me think of Hank Crawford with his soulful tone. The brief “Sweet Georgia Brown” is distinctive for Jones’ sticks on drum rims, and the point/counterpoint between Gardner and Irby.

“SYNBAD” composed for the late baritone saxist, Joe Temperley, one of the original charter members of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, (and a trooper to the end of his life), is a joyful romp. The opposite of a dirge, it’s a real “send off” to Joe, a master on the baritone. Wynton Marsalis, leader of JLCO, is appropriately here on a guest spot.

Put this upcoming CD on your “must buy” list. It’s that good…

Blues for Poppa Reed
From Day to Day
Willie’s Beat
AKA The Sweet Science
Smile Please
Blue Twirl: A Portrait of Sam Gilliam
John Bishop Blues
Sweet Georgia Brown

—Jeff Krow