Since she relocated to New York City in 1999, the steadily building career of this Oklahoma native includes a Bachelor's from the New School and a Master's at Juilliard. Sharel Cassity studied under a number of renowned saxophonists and recorded two CDs. The second, Relentless
(Jazz Legacy, 2009), received a 4-star review in Downbeat
, whose Critics Poll has consistently cited her as a Rising Star on alto sax. Her career includes performances as a leader at well-known venues, as well as frequent work with the Dizzy Gillespie
, Jimmy Heath
, Roy Hargrove
, and DIVA Big Bands, among many others.
On Manhattan Romance
, Cassity's alto and soprano are, understandably, featured heavily. The depth and proficiency of the album is also based on the typically stellar support of Cyrus Chestnut
, Rufus Reid
and Lewis Nash
. Regardless of tempo, each romantic track has the lift, drive and diversified rhythmic and harmonic accents to avoid becoming monotonous or dragging. Cassity is especially impressive with her firm, dark tones and excellent control when simply playing the melodiesan underrated talent.
Four of the slower songs originated in cultures outside the United States, but have long been enormously popular worldwide. Cassity offers an intense treatment of the gentle "Bésame Mucho" (reportedly the most popular Mexican song worldwide). She also covers the poignant "Historia De Un Amor," by Panamanian songwriter Carlos Eleta Almaran, written for a 1956 Mexican movie, and Michel Legrand's 1964 "I Will Wait For You," from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
. Luiz Bonfa
's gorgeous title track, from the unforgettable Marcel Camus-directed 1959 Brazilian film Black Orpheus
, features Cassity and Chestnut, each singularly arresting in establishing a mood.
Of the up-tempo songs, an engaging standout is the classic, spritely "Gingerbread Boy," written by Jimmy Heath, a valued mentor for Cassity. She takes advantage of opportunities to extend, as does Chestnut, who sets the tempo; bass and drums are prominently featured as well. Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" is refreshingly not
done as a ballad, but instead with Cassity's pleasing soprano smoothly stretching out. Cole Porter
's "So in Love" is also a captivating toe-tapper, the solos followed by some invigorating trading of fours, leading into a finely resolved ending for both the song and this engagingly worthwhile recording, by an artist whose future appears very bright.
Besame Mucho; Gingerbread Boy; Historia De UN Amor; My Funny
Over the Rainbow; I Will Wait For You; Black Orpheus; So In Love.
Sharel Cassity: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Cyrus Chestnut:
piano; Rufus Reid: bass; Lewis Nash: drums