Avery Sharpe: Legends & Mentors; Autumn Moonlight
Few bassists in jazz have Avery Sharpe's technique and imagination. A pair of recent releases, different in focus but with a shared overall excellence, exemplify Sharpe's complete virtuosity and show why he's one of the most popular players in the business.
Legends & Mentors honors a trio of jazz greats with whom Sharpe apprenticed and played: pianist McCoy Tyner and saxophonists Yusef Lateef and Archie Shepp. Sharpe has arranged a pair of each man's songs and penned an original for him. Sharpe's brooding ostinato anchors "Big Mac," his full-bodied tribute to Tyner, pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs shadowing Tyner's style beautifully, while Joe Ford's passionate alto recalls Tyner's tenure with Coltrane. John Blake's violin, particularly in tandem with Ford's sax (as on "Ballad for Aisha" and the lovely "Fly Like the Wind") gives each song an added texture. "The Chief," Sharpe's song for Shepp, has a definitive solo by the composer, who fret-slaps, plucks, strums and glides audaciously. The waltz "Steam" is painted beautifully by Blake and Ford on soprano and the band's energy on "Ujaama" will leave listeners breathless.
Ford's beautiful flute playing buoys "Gentle Giant," a stunning tribute to Lateef. Sharpe's mischievous bass licks at one point mimic the steps of an approaching giant and Winard Harper's carefully rendered percussion gives the song wonderful closure. The pair of Lateef tunes finds the band handling space in two ways. The blues lament of "Morning" has considerable spacing while "Because They Love Me," on the other hand, is a tour de force where the entire band plays relentlessly, but with exhilarating coherence and a bold improvisatory spirit. The originality of Sharpe's music and the crispness of his arrangements shows that masters and pupil have served each other well.
Autumn Moonlight illustrates Sharpe's musicianship and compositional depth further, this time in a trio with Gumbs and Harper. The band swings easily on the hip "Boston Baked Blues," then dips into the songbook of fellow Berkshires denizen James Taylor for an upbeat rendering of "Fire and Rain," Harper's crisp percussion and Gumbs' graceful piano voicing offsetting the tune's melancholy theme. The samba-flavored title track is impressive musically, although Sharpe's vocalizing sounds closer to an exercise. He's at his best when his bass sings and on the ballad "Visible Man" the instrument sounds like a scat singer doing some heartbreaking improvising. The trio is flawless on "Take Your Time, But Hurry Up!" and Woody Shaw's "Organ Grinder". Gumbs' other contribution, the samba-inflected "First Time We Met," is a beautiful straight-ahead tune on which Gumbs does his best playing. Many bass players, even as leaders, tend to stay in the shadows, emerging occasionally for a solo or two. Sharpe couldn't stay in the background if he tried. He plays with a Gold's Gym muscularity, complementing his robust pizzicato with vigorous strumming and subtle glissandi. He's a singular talent and one of jazz' true treasures.
Tracks and Personnel
Legends & Mentors
Tracks: 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 and soprano saxophones; flute; Onaje Allan Gumbs: piano; Winard Harper: drums.
Tracks: Boston Baked Blues; Fire and Rain; Autumn Moonlight; Take Your Time, But Hurry Up!; Palace of the Seven Jewels; Organ Grinder; Intrepid Warrior; Lost In a Dream; Visible Man; First Time We Met.
Personnel: Avery Sharpe: bass; Onaje Allan Gumbs: piano; Winard Harper: drums, percussion.