Typically, when an instrumentalist or solo artist creates new music, the instrument carries most of the leads. That's not necessarily the case with acoustic bass players. In a class that includes Rufus Reid, Harvie S and Charles Fambrough, Avery Sharpe presents music that features the entire ensemble more than himself.
Sharpe, a native of Valdosta, Georgia, began playing piano at age eight. He later took up the accordion and switched to electric bass in high school. While attending the University of Massachusetts, Sharpe took the advice of jazz bassist Reggie Workman and learned to play the acoustic bass. Over the next few years, he played alongside saxophonist Archie Shepp, drummer Art Blakey and pianist McCoy Tyner, among others.
Two of those are paid homage by Sharpe's Legends & Mentors
, a mix of songs written by Shepp, Tyner, multi-reed player Yusef Lateef, and songs that Sharpe wrote for each. The album is arranged in three series, each with a Sharpe tribute followed by two covers. Sidemen handle most of the leads and solos, while Sharpe carries the rhythm along with drummer Winard Harper.
John Blake on violin and Joe Ford on alto sax perform a duet lead in the dramatic "Big Mac (Bro. Tyner)." After they set things up, Onaje Allan Gumbs' piano takes off on an intricate solo. Here, the bass and drums are more prominent. Then, the piano slides to the background as the sax comes forth with a blistering solo, followed by the violin. Harper uses his array of cymbals for emphasis at key points. Tyner's "Ballad for Aisha" and "Fly With the Wind" closes this series.
"The Chief (Bro. Shepp)" begins slowly and almost in a brooding way, but quickly picks up the energy. The violin and sax share the lead, punctuated sharply by the piano. The bass and drums eventually become more prominent. The alto sax delivers an elegant solo, backed by the piano and drums. Sharpe, though mostly in the background, puts extra emphasis on his bass before performing a solo of his own. He gets in some string-slapping action before giving way to the violin. While Blake shows his chops, Sharpe and Harper are in their own zones. Shepp's "Steam" and "Ujaama" conclude this segment.
Ford takes to the flute on the abstract opening of "Gentle Giant (Bro. Lateef)," which is a bit more laid-back than most of the others. Soon after the introduction, the flute performs a brief monologue, and then the song reverts to its main melody. The pace shifts to a finger-snapping groove when the violin takes the lead, accented by the piano, bass and drums. Later in the song, the bass and drums have monologues of their own. The set closes with Lateef's "Morning" and "Because They Love Me."
Sharpe does an exceptional job of interpreting the songs by his Mentors & Legends
, as well as embracing their models in writing his personal tributes. The ensemble is tight, and everybody gets a chance to shine.