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Mark Sherman: Spiral Staircase/High Rollin'

Joel Roberts By

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Vibraphonist Mark Sherman has some pretty fair credentials. The Julliard graduate spent six years working in Peggy Lee's group alongside Grady Tate, Mike Renzi, and Jay Leonhart. He's played gigs with Mel Torme, toured with Jackie & Roy and Ruth Brown, and recorded with everyone from Liza Minelli to Lena Horne to Jon Hendricks. In 1986, he cut a solo album for Columbia after Julliard classmate Wynton Marsalis offered his endorsement. More recently, he produced two albums for guitarist Larry Coryell.

So it should come as no surprise that Sherman can play a little. Make that a lot. On two recent solo outings on his own Miles High label, Sherman proves himself a bold and expressive improviser on the vibes, as well as piano and synthesizer. He has a sophisticated musical sensibility that moves easily from heated post-bop to thoughtful balladry, with (alas) some lighter pop-jazz fare mixed in.

Of the two discs, 1997's Spiral Staircase gets the nod here. The album features Sherman on vibes and piano joined by ringers like drummer Ronnie Burrage, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, guitarist Rodney Jones, and an outstanding saxophonist named Tim Hegarty. This is a mostly straight-ahead affair with some strong Sherman originals, plus covers of "What a Wonderful World" (the one Louis Armstrong had a hit with) and the classic "Alone Together," performed at an unusually revved-up tempo. Sherman's playing throughout is superb and the ensemble supports him splendidly.

1998's High Rollin' again shows off Sherman's virtuosity, particularly his keyboard and programming skills. In addition to playing the vibes, Sherman provides all the bass and drum parts himself, with saxophonist Hegarty the only other musician appearing on most tracks. Electric guitarist Al Orlo is featured on two cuts and has some nice moments.

Sherman appears to be moving in more of a pop/funk direction with this album. And it's certainly a fine effort in that vein. You're not likely to hear better playing on an album of mostly light jazz any time soon. It would be nice, though, to hear a musician of such undeniable accomplishment tackling some more challenging material.

More information on Mark Sherman can be found at his Web page: http://www.jazzcorner.com/sherman/

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