Sherisse Rogers's Project Uprising: Sleight of Hand

Jack Bowers By

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After receiving for review a copy of Sherisse Rogers' debut album, Sleight of Hand, I remembered having seen her at the IAJE conference last January in Long Beach, CA, conducting "Chacagliatu,"? one of the selections from the album, which earned top honors for an emerging composer in the IAJE/ASCAP Commissions honoring Count Basie, in spite of its being about as stylistically removed from Basie as one could imagine—much closer to, say, Gil Evans, Carla Bley, Maria Schneider or Jamie Begian.

As I'd entered that performance in mid-stream, as it were, this would be my first chance to hear the composition from end to end, as well as Rogers' other pieces—"Sleight of Hand,"? "For One's Lost,"? "Transitions"?—and her arrangements of Dave Liebman's "Brother Ernesto,"? Bill Evans' "Time Remembered"? and the standards "East of the Sun"? and "Blue Skies."?

Let's start with "Chacagliatu,"? a word that means nothing by itself but is a blend of three others—chaconne, passacaglia and maracatu, the last a Brazilian rhythm on which the piece is based. If there's a word to sum it up, that word may be "ambitious."? There's a lot going on, rhythmically and harmonically, behind Yoon Choi's wordless vocal and solos by trumpet, guitar, trombone and piano, but as is the case with many contemporary works, it simply failed to excite me. On the other hand, champions of the composer/arrangers named above may find it thoroughly exhilarating.

My reaction to the rest of the album was much the same. Although Rogers is unquestionably a talented writer and arranger, she swings only rarely, even though she knows how to (as the sparkling "Blue Skies"? suggests). Even guest appearances by saxophonists Liebman, Donny McCaslin and Joel Frahm can't rescue the foundering ship—in fact, McCaslin does more harm than good, wailing and screeching his way through "For One's Lost,"? whose opening brass passage is as enchanting as anything on the album.

"Sleight of Hand"? does provide a respectable starting point, motoring brusquely along behind earnest solos by pianist Jesse Stacken, trumpeter Adam Czerpinski and alto Erica von Kleist. Liebman does the best he can with the headstrong "Brother Ernesto,"? Charenee Wade sings (and scats) admirably on "East of the Sun"? (sharp solo too by trombonist Ben Griffin), and Stacken helps make the haunting "Time Remembered,"? to me, the album's most rewarding number. "Transitions,"? for string quartet and big band, is introduced by the strings before tenor Frahm and the band make their appearance, lending warmth and depth to its balladic framework. "Blue Skies"? is cleverly done, and as noted, is spicier than anything else on the menu.

Even though I wasn't bemused by Sleight of Hand, if I were a betting man, I'd lay odds we'll be seeing and hearing more from Ms. Rogers, as she is one of a number of creative young composer/arrangers who are taking jazz in new and sometimes exciting directions. I'm just not sure that's where I want to go. Others may hear things quite differently, and to them I say, enjoy the ride.

Track Listing: Sleight of Hand; Brother Ernesto; East of the Sun; Time Remembered; For One

Personnel: Cherisse Rogers, composer, arranger, conductor. Musicians -- Erica von Kliest, Aaron Irwin, Jeremy Fletcher, Felipe Salles, Mike Webster, Kurt Bacher, Nathan Warner, Adam Czerpinski, Nadje Noorhuis, Laurie Frink, Luis Bonilla, Kaji Kajiwara, Christian Pincock, Ben Griffin, Max Siegel, Jesse Stacken, Jesse Lewis, Jorge Amorim, Fraser Hollins, Obed Calvaire, Rob Moose, Laura Arpienen, Karissa Antonacci, Jody Redhage, Yoon Choi, Charenee Wade, Nathan Hetherington. Special guests -- Dave Liebman (2), soprano sax; Donny McCaslin (5), tenor sax; Joel Frahm (7), valve trombone.

Title: Sleight of Hand | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Xanadu2 Music


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