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Project THEM: Project THEM: Project THEM

Dave Wayne By

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Vibraphonist Mark Sherman has been knocking around for a while, and though he's a seasoned professional who's won several Downbeat polls it seems that he's one of those artists that's perpetually seen as a newcomer. It's telling that his Downbeat wins were in the "Rising Star" category, though he's been active on the New York jazz scene since the late 1970s. Initially a jazz drummer, Sherman-who still gigs on drums, and is a very adept jazz pianist-studied classical music at Juilliard alongside Wynton Marsalis. After recording Fulcrum Point (Unisphere Records, 1980; recently re-issued on Miles High), a remarkably innovative fusion-oriented album, he went on to record a more commercial effort a few years later (A New Balance, Columbia, 1986). By that time, Sherman had already become one of the most sought-after mallet percussionists worldwide, appearing in symphonic settings with the New York Philharmonic, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and the Joffrey Ballet Orchestra to name a few. He also worked extensively with big-name vocalists such as Mel Torme, Peggy Lee and Liza Minnelli. His parallel career as a jazz vibraphonist has included lengthy stints with blues / jazz vocalist Ruth Brown, vocalists Jackie and Roy, and guitarists Larry Coryell, Joe Beck and Rodney Jones. Not only does Sherman maintain an active performance schedule, he is also on the faculty at Juilliard, and has operated his own record label, Miles High Records, for over 15 years.

Project THEM is Sherman's 9th for his own label. As the name implies, Project THEM is really more a group effort than a solo album. The compositional duties are spread amongst nearly all of the band's members. The band is comprised of both well-known (Sherman, drummer Adam Nussbaum, pianist / keyboardist Mitchel Forman) and less-well-known players. Of the latter, saxophonist Bob Franceschini is a popular New York session player who has worked with Willie Colon and Mike Stern and has appeared on a few of Sherman's earlier recordings. Bassist Martin Gjakonovski and pianist Paolo Di Sabatino, both based in Europe, are new names to me.

The sound here is largely aggressive, forward-leaning modern jazz— highly advanced without being avant-garde. There are a few fusiony touches; Franceschini plugs in his sax and applies some funky wah-wah to the New Orleans-flavored "Sleight of Hand." Forman's admirably greasy approach to the Hammond B-3 is evident "Minor Turns," a Franceschini composition based on John Coltrane's classic "Giant Steps." But the band's sound is dominantly acoustic and hard-swinging- in the vein of latter-day Art Blakey or McCoy Tyner. This is especially evident on up-tempo, high energy tracks such as "Submissive Dominants" and "Angular Blues." With dynamic players like these in the house, that's no surprise. All three attack this music with focused intelligence and restless, emotive energy. Even a ballad such as Paul Williams' "Close Enough for Love" has a palpable forward motion that adds an essential element of tension, bringing forth the piece's inherent melancholy. Nussbaum's "We 3" also digs pretty deep into the ballad bag with scintillating results; Franceschini's big tenor leads the way as the tune goes from rubato to stroll and back again. Gjakonovski's "The South Song" has an introspective feel, almost ECM-like in its chill approach. Project THEM is an admirably mixed bag of modern mainstream jazz styles played with the sort of edgy energy and excitement that lifts the music well above the mundane. The solid chemistry between the players is accentuated by the excellent, largely original, compositions, which are-in turn-driven by by the simpatico ensemble interaction and consistently deft improvising.

Track Listing: Submissive Dominants; Sleight Of Hand; We 3; Solitude; The South Song; Minor Tunes; Close Enough For Love; A Short Swing; Ma Bo's Waltz; Angular Blues.

Personnel: Bob Franceschini: Tenor Saxophone & Flute; Mark Sherman: Vibraphone; Mitchel Forman: Piano & Organ; Martin Gjakonovski: Bass; Adam Nussbaum: Drums; Paolo Di Sabatino: Piano.

Title: Project THEM: Project THEM | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Miles High Records

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