Listening to Dragon Fly
is an exercise in frustration, plain and simple. Avery Sharpe's trio outing with guests, coming on the heels of his warm three-part Extended Family
series, promises to be an engaging trip through varied styles and moodsbut it would be immeasurably better if he could back off now and then, quit doubling lines, or step out of the spotlight for a minute or two. That's an exaggeration, of course. But Sharpe's forward presence and self-indulgence goes so far over the top that it pretty much ruins the whole experience.
It would be much easier to dismiss the whole thing out of hand if his compositions didn't have a regularly engaging, unpredictable flair; or if his bandmates didn't have so much creativity to offer. Pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs in particular has a satisfying way of connecting ideas on the spot through blues-informed and swing-rich playing. Gumbs is no iconoclastusually he's most comfortable in the familiar territory of right-hand melody plus left-hand compingbut he's got a knack for mixing things up in unexpected ways. While he has a few chances to shine on center stage, he's usually relegated to supporting roles, as on the pensive trio piece "Protect Me," where Sharpe overdubs his acoustic trio with noodly electric bass that pretty much chokes off any air. Notable Gumbs solos appear in the opening and closing tunes, bent toward fiery hard bop and funky blues, respectively.
Original compositions like the title track display a respect for deviant form, stretching the edges and sharpening the contours in fresh ways. "Dragon Fly" segues from a blunt opening assault into sparse, sugary melodicism and then cycles back, gradually opening connections over time that make the abrupt transition seem more natural and unforced. The piece never really feels "comfortable" (and Sharpe relays his childhood fear of dragonflies in the liner notes, which helps explain things a bit), but that's not the point. Unfortunately, like several other tracks on the record, it simply fades out instead of ever coming to a point of resolutionor even conclusion.
The three pieces on Dragon Fly that were not written by Sharpe include Gumbs' simplistic but gently soulful "Morning Glow (Asayake)"; the Hammerstein/Rodgers standard "My Favorite Things," a simmering vehicle for vocalist Jeri Brown's second guest appearance on the record; and Chico Freeman's "Evolution," where the composer guests on tenor and drives some tight group playing.
Personnel: Avery Sharpe (acoustic bass, 6-string electric bass, 4-string electric bass), Onaje Allan Gumbs (piano),
Winard Harper (drums). With guests: Jeri Brown (vocals on 2,6,11), Chico Freeman (tenor saxophone on 2,8).