Vibraphonist Mark Sherman has been on the scene for nearly two decades, working and recording with artists including Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, and Larry Coryellwith whom he was also producer, songwriter, and pianist for five years. So it's somewhat surprising that he's got such a small discography as a leader. Still, last year's The Motive Series, his first album since 1998's High Rollin', garnered significant critical acclaim and was in some respects a debut, insofar as it introduced him to a larger audience. One Step Closer builds on the momentum of The Motive Series, representing Sherman's continued growth as a player and composer.
Back from The Motive Series are pianist Allen Farnhaman expressive mainstream player who a track record as a pianist for artists as diverse as singer Susannah McCorkle and guitarist Charlie Byrd, but also as a producer on over a hundred records since the mid-1970sand Tim Horner, a versatile drummer who has recorded with known names including bandleader Maria Schneider and guitarists Dave Stryker and Vic Juris. They're joined by bassist Dean Johnson, best known for his work with the late saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, and trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, who, refreshingly, comes more from Woody Shaw than Miles Davis.
Like The Motive Series, One Step Closer focuses heavily on Sherman's writing. Six of the ten tunes are his, plus two by Farnham and two standardsa reharmonized but faithful "Moon River and a similarly reverential yet imaginative reading of the tender ballad "My One and Only Love. Sherman is firmly entrenched in the mainstream, but he proves that there's plenty of room there not only to manoeuvre, but to innovate. "Modal Blues is a straightforward swinger, but the stop-start arrangement of its circuitous theme gives it personality. The title of "Little Lullaby is deceivingit's no ballad, and its gentle mid-tempo groove is broken up by a two-chord vamp that gives it an understated slow burn.
Sherman saves his most adventurous tune for last. "Long Trip Home features a complex arrangement, combining a rubato intro with a Latin-tinged rhythm and theme that provides everyone the opportunity to introduce just a hint of outside playingcreating a subtle tension and release that makes it a highlight.
Saxophonist Joe Lovano's appearance on three tracks receives a lot of attention in the CD booklet and press releasehe's inventive and swinging as alwaysbut One Step Closer is really more about a group sound that has evolved with the quintet, which clocked in some gigging time before the recording, and it shows. The interaction is subtle but present. Magnarelli and Sherman make for a richly textured front line, especially on tracks like "Little Lullaby, which features Magnarelli on the warmer-toned flugelhorn.
Sherman's recent albums prove him a player worthy of consideration in the same breath as contemporary vibraphonists like Joe Locke, Steve Nelson, and Stefon Harris, and the one-two punch of The Motive Series and One Step Closer prove that he's arrived and is giving the modern mainstream a fresh alternative voice.
Personnel: Mark Sherman: vibraphone, marimba; Joe Lovano: tenor saxophone on #1, #3, #6; Joe
Magnarelli: trumpet, flugelhorn, Allen Farnham: piano; Dean Johnson: bass; Tim Horner: