Mark Sherman plays vibes with a brash, sprinting edge and a declamatory, ringing sound. He's also a gifted composer who can place swirling, complex harmonies into a swinging format under catchy, even memorable melodies. He deserves a lot more exposure, and now, with One Step Closer, he's got a terrific record that will widen his audience considerably, if there's any justice.
The album starts with the crackling Sherman original "Modal Blues," a burner with knotty changes that never lets up. Sherman plays a forthright vibes solo, and trumpeter Joe Magnarelli also shines, but guest artist Joe Lovano steals it with a brilliant, blazing tenor saxophone improvisation, playing long, swinging lines that build into sustained screams, then subside to a snaky bop conclusion. Allen Farnham's lively calypso "Genkitively" reaches similar heights, as Sherman, Magnarelli, Lovano, and Farnham set off fireworks over a burning rhythm section.
There isn't a weak track on this album. Sherman is consistently inventive. His use of boppish grace notes adds unpredictability to his lines. Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli is at the top of his considerable game, exhibiting a gorgeous rounded tone, with just a hint of Clifford Brown. His daring sense of harmony recalls Woody Shaw's use of pentatonic scales, but make no mistake: Magnarelli is very much his own man. And Lovano, although he only appears on three tracks, is worth the price of admission.
But One Step Closer wouldn't be nearly this good were it not for the blazing rhythm section. This is Sherman's working band, and Farnham, bassist Dean Johnson, and drummer Tim Horner think and act as one. They can explode, they can caress, they can dance a samba, they can swing hard. They meet every challenge in fine fashion. Mark Sherman has delivered a winner.
Personnel: Mark Sherman: vibraphone, marimba; Joe Magnarelli: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Allen Farnham:
piano; Dean Johnson: bass; Tim Horner: drums. With Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone (1,3,6).