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Mark Sherman: The Motive Series

John Kelman By

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The vibraphone is surely the most difficult instrument to introduce to a jam session, if for no other reason than its sheer lack of portability. Sure, pianos and drums are tough to cart around, but many clubs have a house piano. And if a group is playing in a club, you can be fairly certain there'll be a kit on stage. On the other hand, try schlepping a vibraphone into a crowded club; mosey on up to the stage and say, "Hey man, mind if I sit in?" It's more likely that vibraphonists with the chutzpah to actually do that end up on stage as much out of pity as anything else.

And it's a shame, because the vibraphone is making something of a comeback these days. Joe Locke, Steve Nelson and Stefon Harris, to name but three, are pushing the envelope of possibilities, creating a new paradigm for an instrument whose last real movers and shakers were artists including Bobby Hutcherson, Gary Burton and Mike Manieri—who, mind you, are still making significant music today. It's really time to re-examine the position of the vibes and give them more street cred.

Mark Sherman has been around for the last fifteen years, having recorded a number of records under his own name as well as supporting artists including Larry Coryell and Peggy Lee, but it's his latest record, The Motive Series , that should really push him into the limelight, a record that combines a clear sense of tradition with a strong contemporary flare.

When people hear the word "contemporary," they often think of incorporating modern styles—hip hop rhythms, for example. But while Sherman's sound is as modern as Locke's—who wrote the deservingly-effusive liner notes—it's nothing as blatant as genre fusing. It's more about a certain urbane attitude and urban energy that's rampant from the reharmonized "Nature Boy," which alternates between a quasi-Latin feel and an intense swing, to the modal "Motive #10 - Judaican" which, dedicated to the late Kenny Kirkland and one of two tracks to feature guest saxophonist Michael Brecker, revolves around a complex theme that is, again, a set-up for a hard-swinging solo section.

Sherman is a linear player who seems to bristle with ideas, whether on the up-tempo "Motive #8 - Altered," which features a staggering thematic figure, or on the tender ballad, "Motive #11 - Always Reaching." As brimming with intriguing harmonic play as he is, however, he never loses site of the fact that the successful soloist always retains a solid sense of construction.

Capably backed by pianist Mark Farnham, bassist Phil Palombi and drummer Tim Horner—three more musicians you should be hearing more from in the future— The Motive Series paints the most forceful picture yet of Sherman the player and composer. If there's any justice his name will be mentioned in the same breath as other modernists who are making a compelling case for the vibes as a front-line instrument.

Visit Mark Sherman on the web.


Track Listing: Nature Boy, Motive #10 Judaican (for Kenny Kirkland), Motive #1, Motive #11 Always Reaching, Motive #7 Alla Sandra, Motive #3, That Moment, Motive #4 Venture Within, Motive #9, Soothing Dream, Old Folks, Motive #8 Altered

Personnel: Mark Sherman (vibes, composer), Allen Farnham (piano), Phil Palombi (bass), Tim Horner (drums), Michael Brecker (tenor sax, two tracks)

Title: The Motive Series | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: CAP

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