Avery Sharpe: Legends & Mentors (2008)

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Avery Sharpe: Legends & Mentors
There are those who take jazz to be part of a larger racial identity, and hence define its characteristics within that framework. Others, however—while not neglecting jazz's origins—point to its essence being individual expression, with the main rule being that there are no rules. The tension between the two viewpoints is palpable; but in the end, if the listener can hear the player's message, the music fits Duke Ellington's category of "good."

Bassist Avery Sharpe's Legends & Mentors is an extremely deep and satisfying album that communicates directly to the heart and mind, while also having a clear connection to Africa, African-Americans and the origins of jazz. Indeed, if you spend much of your listening time in ECM-land (for instance), the immediate impact is refreshing, primal and most definitely not of lesser quality.

The album is structured as an homage to three of Sharpe's mentors and deepest influences— McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef—with a triptych consisting of an original Sharpe composition capturing the essence of each mentor, followed by two tunes by the respective masters. The result is to present an aural history of a personal corner of stylistic jazz history. Sharpe played in Tyner's band for twenty years, studied with Shepp at the University of Massachusetts in the Seventies, and has known Lateef for fifteen years, playing on seven of his records.

Heavy might be the perfect word for the groove set up in the opening Tyner dedication, "Big Mac." Sharpe's bass, combined with pianist Onaje Allan Gumb's left hand and drummer Winard Harper's urgent drums, sets up the deepest feel imaginable—behind the beat, yet driving and insistent. This is musical heaven, complete with goose bumps. When violinist John Blake and saxophonist Joe Ford enter in unison to play the theme of what is essentially an extended minor blues, the sound is all-enveloping, soothing and invigorating. The solos by Gumbs, Ford and Blake are each introduced by a dramatic pause that raises the tension to a delicious level; a perfect track.

"The Chief" and two tunes by Archie Shepp are very interesting, in that they manage to capture the dichotomy that is Shepp. The intensity is there, along with the freedom of the avant-garde tempered with the roots of black art music.

The Yusef Lateef section, beginning with "Gentle Giant," also brings forth the essence of the musician, beyond the use of the flute. The last track, "Because They Love Me," reaches the ecstatic.

Legends & Mentors is a wonderful record that brings the listener in contact with the honesty and integrity of Sharpe, as well as the deep beauty of the style of jazz that is not heard as often these days. Sharpe is not only acknowledging his influences and giving back; he, along with this crack band, is giving something to listeners—the opportunity to get directly in touch with the creative spirit.

Track Listing: Big Mac (Bro. Tyner); Ballad For Aisha; Fly With The Wind; The Chief (Bro. Shepp); Steam; Ujaama; Gentle Giant (Bro. Lateef); Morning; Because They Love Me.

Personnel: Avery Sharpe: acoustic bass; John Blake: violin; Joe Ford: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Onaje Allan Gumbs: piano; Winard Harper: drums.

Record Label: JKNM Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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