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Joe Lovano's name may be what will first turn listeners' heads toward One Step Closer, but it will be vibraphonist Mark Sherman and his strong ensemble who will keep their attention fixed. Sherman himself is not as widely known as he could be, but he is by no means a newcomer to either the jazz or the classical scenes, having backed Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, and Gloria Lynne, performed with the New York Philharmonic, and released at least six earlier full-lengths as leader or co-leader. His most recent, The Motive Series (2004), featured yet another high-profile guest artist, Michael Brecker.
In his cameo role here, Lovano appears on three tracks: "Modal Blues," "Moon River," and "Genkitively." The first and last of these are originals by Sherman (five other impressive charts on the disc are also his) and pianist Allen Farnham, respectively. "Modal Blues," which kicks things off, is fast and slippery, full of melodic twists and switchbacks. It's the best of the ten tracks on One Step Closer, showcasing some fine ensemble workespecially on the rapid closing run-throughand hearty solos. Sherman's playing here is brisk and lucid, as it generally is throughout the disc; Lovano's is uncharacteristically raw and occasionally piercing.
Farnham's "Genkitively" has a calypso flavor. Sherman's vibes are deliberately reminiscent of steel drums, and drummer Tim Horner takes a playful, musical approach. The group really sways and swings, with each solo complimenting the previous one, though it's odd that Farnham would opt out of a proper solo on his own chart. "Hope," the other Farnham track, is hushed and pensive, and one of the few songs where Sherman slows down to let notes linger and ripple-like splashes in a pond. This is mostly a dialogue between Farnham and Sherman, with Horner and bassist Dean Johnson keeping a steady but gossamer rhythm. "Moon River," as one might expect, is smokier, but both Sherman and Lovano have moments of optimistic swing; another ballad, "My Princess," penned by Sherman for his wife, is tender without being entirely downtempo. Later "My One and Only Love" gets a samba treatment and includes some deft pass-offs from trumpeter Joe Magnarelli (on flugelhorn) to Sherman to Farnham and back again.
One Step Closer is often beautiful, though not breathtaking, and swings vigorously without being especially stunning. Thanks to the inspiration in the songwriting and the collective performances, much of it still remains deeply memorable. While Lovano's presence is surely a bonus of sorts on this session, Sherman and his bandmates stand up perfectly well on their own. A followup with the same lineup would be something to watch for.
Track Listing: Modal Blues; Little Lullaby; Moon River; Spiritual Exercise; Hope; Genkitively; My Princess;
One And Only Love; Ella Bella; Long Trip Home.
Personnel: Mark Sherman: vibraphone, marimba; Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone (1,3,6); Joe Magnarelli:
trumpet, fluegelhorn; Allen Farnham: piano; Dean Johnson: bass; Tim Horner: drums.