Alto Saxophonist Sherman Irby Shows His Faith in Music On His Second Release For Black Warrior Records


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Alto saxophonist / composer Sherman Irby not only adheres to the grand tradition of Jazz but also provides a means to understanding, healing and the spirit of hope and optimism that are essential to human potential. Sherman's new album, Faith (to be released on July 12), places this message in the forefront. In his own words, “Faith is my personal testament to the things I love about great music. Challenging music, passion, compassion, experience and daring are all rolled up to become something that I can tap my feet to."

As the second release on his own Black Warrior Records, Faith follows in the footsteps of his previous album, Black Warrior (2000). Faith features a quartet that includes his longtime associates, Gerald Cannon and Willie Jones III, on bass and drums and longtime colleague, Larry Willis, on piano. The synergy and deeply empathetic musical understanding and communication that only come through such longevity are quite apparent on Faith, and are manifested in the “conversational" exchanges and dynamic interplay among the musicians.

There is a serene and peaceful perspective throughout Faith that not only demonstrates another step in the maturing process of Sherman as an artist and a man, but also reflects the changed environment in which this album was conceived. A resident of the Sugar Hill section of Harlem from 1995 - 2002, Sherman was at home on September 11, 2001, and like everyone who was in New York on that date, he was profoundly affected by those tragic events. Digging into his own sense of spiritual awareness, Sherman avoided the emotional pitfalls of outrage, fear and vengeance that overtook so many as a result of that day. Instead, he focused on the power of the human spirit throughout his new album on tracks such as the gentle, slowly percolating “Faith"; the easy loping swinger “Hope"; and the mid-tempo conversational “Charity."

Sheer beauty has always been a prime component of Sherman's music and he continues this component on Faith through ballads like “You're Still You" and “Wave," the only non-Irby originals on the album. On “You're Still You," the Ennio Morricone / Linda Thompson song popularized by Josh Groban, he eases into a nicely grooved section after the melody is stated. On the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic, “Wave," Sherman abandons the traditional Brazilian / Bossa approach for a straightforward rendering that displays its simple, yet profound beauty.

Some of Faith's tracks employ the fiery and more aggressive approach of Black Warrior, such as “Rare Taste," an up-tempo jaunt built upon adventurous changes, dedicated to both Roy Hargrove and the exuberance of youth, a return to Sherman's early days.

Born and raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Sherman began playing music at the age of 12. After graduating high school, he had the opportunity to play and record with Gospel immortal James Cleveland, and attended Clark Atlanta University, graduating with a BA in Music Education in 1991. The rich southern traditions of community and church in his upbringing are apparent in Sherman's soulful and passionately communicative musical style to this day. Throughout all of his experiences, Sherman continues to hone his own sound. In the great tradition of jazz, he expanded upon the music of his influences, weaving the rhythmic exuberance of Cannonball Adderley, the fluidly articulate dexterity of Sonny Stitt, and the tonal purity of Paul Desmond into his own highly personal style.

Recognizing the shift in economics of the record industry and the new opportunities that technology offered for artists' self-empowerment, Sherman left Blue Note Records to form Black Warrior Records, releasing Black Warrior in 2000. Departing from Roy Hargrove's ensemble around the same time, Sherman shifted his primary focus to his own group in the company of his former Hargrove bandmates. Although this is his primary commitment, Irby took the opportunity to join the final ensemble of the peerless Elvin Jones in 2004, and after Elvin's passing, joined Papo Vazquez's Pirates Troubadours, with whom he still performs on occasion. Sherman has also performed with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, The New York City Ballet and recorded with Russell Gunn, Ann Hampton-Calloway, Wynton Marsalis, Dennis Taylor, Claudia Acuña, and on the soundtrack for Rosewood, as well as on albums by his bandmates Cannon and Jones.

Although all of Sherman's albums have been deeply immersed in the jazz tradition, they all reflect the diversity of his personal roots and musical experience. However, his future plans will explore that diversity in a more expansive fashion. The next Black Warrior Records release, scheduled for early 2006, will feature his Organomics group (formed in 2003) in the classic groove of the soul / jazz tradition and featuring organist Fred McFarland, guitarist Saul Rubin and Willie Jones III. He is also preparing to record a piano-less trio recording with Cannon and Jones. On a larger scale, Sherman is nearing the completion of a concerto for jazz quartet and full orchestra, along with three shorter works for the same instrumentation. These will be developed initially in conjunction with a local community orchestra. He has also been creating music for a 16-piece Jazz orchestra.

Despite all of his extensive performing activities, which have taken him all over the world, Sherman has continued to pursue his educational commitment. In addition to the private instruction he has given since his graduation, he is the Northeast regional director of the JazzMasters Workshop, and serves as 2005 artist-in-residence for the adult jazz camp Jazz West. Sherman is also a member of the Board of Directors of the CubaNola Collective, which focuses on the long tradition of Cuban music in New Orleans.

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