The Sheryl Bailey 4 – For All Those Living – PureMusic PM5111, 51:27 ****:
(Sheryl Bailey – guitar; Jim Ridl – piano; Gary Wang – bass; Shingo Okudaira – drums)
Underrated guitarist Sheryl Bailey is a multipurpose musician whose previous undertakings have involved soul-jazz trio projects in the Grant Green/Wes Montgomery tradition as well as fusion endeavors, and her credits include working in a klezmer ensemble. On her latest recording, For All Those Living, Bailey winds through a mostly straightforward collection of all original tunes featuring her new quartet: steady colleague Jim Ridl (acoustic piano), stand-up bassist Gary Wang and drummer Shingo Okudaira.
The fifty-one minute album is inspired by some of Bailey’s influences such as Wes Montgomery, The Wynton Kelly Trio and several of Bailey’s guitar mentors. Bailey’s pieces shift smoothly from melancholy moods such as the refined and articulate title track to a charging tribute to fellow guitarist Masa Sasaki and to mid-tempo groovers. As always, Bailey’s warm accessibility and subtle seriousness is everywhere: she is a creative guitarist who is never flashy but always delivers something worth hearing.
“29-11” has some keen moments as the foursome progress through Bailey’s mid-stride number, particularly Ridl’s firm piano, which stays at the forefront for most of the cut’s length, and Bailey’s somewhat restrained and tasteful soloing which at times recalls her former teacher, Jim Hall. Bailey and her bandmembers switch gears on the gentle “For a Russian Princess,” which reveals the musicians’ talent for balladic works.
There are four highlights written specifically for or about other musicians. Fluent late-night number “A Muse Sings” is dedicated to Bailey’s good friend, the late Jimmy Wyble, a mainstay of western swing who deftly joined the points between traditional country and post-war jazz. Bailey and Wang exhibit sympathetic and lyrical connections as the band flows through Bailey’s poignant character portrayal. The upbeat, bluesy “Masa’s Bag” was designed as an homage for another Bailey comrade-with-six-strings, Masa Sasaki, who is starting to make a name for himself. Bailey’s Wes/Grant inspirations are in full form as she displays her clear, rich single-note lines and soulful chords. Ridl has a potent mid-song solo, while the rhythm section keeps the tune moving at a sharp pace. The easygoing swaying “Wilkinsburg” honors guitarist Jack Wilkins, who was in Buddy Rich’s group and has issued well-regarded records since the seventies. Bailey leaves lots of space for everyone to solo, with notable contributions from Ridl – who supplies a rocking stride on his keyboard – and Wang, who furnishes a tender improvisation which has lovely phrasings. The final praise-piece – also the set’s closing cut – is the absorbing bopper, “Moblin’,” which was penned to celebrate the late great tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. Befitting Mobley’s stature this tune exudes swing, soul and rhythmic flair and is an excellent way to end a uniformly strong album.
Bailey is committed to helping others. The lamenting urbane title track – which has Pat Martino-ish stylishness with varying harmonics – acts as Bailey’s prayer for hope, principally for those who face the loss of someone suffering from long illness. Bailey’s intent humanism is also externally offered to listeners: 10% of all album sales will be donated to the Ronald McDonald House of NYC, an organization Bailey has supported in other ways.
1. An Unexpected Turn
2. For All Those Living
3. A Muse Sings
4. Masa’s Bag
7. For a Russian Princess
— Doug Simpson