Sharpe_span3
June 2008

Avery Sharpe
Legends & Mentors: The Music of McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp, and Yusef Lateef
JKNM

Here bassist Avery Sharpe invokes the musical spirit of three living masters, but rather than imitate, he pays tribute in his own voice. In doing so, he both honors them and creates anew atop the foundations they have laid.

The program follows a consistent pattern throughout: a Sharpe original, written in honor of the artist being feted, is followed by two selections from the honoree’s oeuvre. In myriad subtle ways, Sharpe creates aural landscapes that effectively summon the spirit of the musicians they’re meant to praise: Examples lie in the forward-surging metric shifts of “Big Mac,” his Tyner tribute; the tempered balance between melodicism and astringent polytonality in “The Chief,” his paean to Shepp; and his canny meld of meditative spirituality, sensual urgency and playful joy in the Afro-centric “Gentle Giant (Bro Lateef).” Sharpe and his compatriots—violinist John Blake, saxophonist/flutist Joe Ford, pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs and drummer Winard Harper—are free to explore and mine new treasures throughout these compositions.

The addition of Blake’s violin to the standard woodwind-piano-bass-drums lineup promises provocative new textures and voicings, and that promise is fulfilled from the opening bars of “Big Mac.” Blake’s woody timbre and flawless pitch elegantly complement Ford’s tenor and soprano saxes. At times he sounds almost like another horn; other times, the physicality and linear flow of bow-on-strings summon a bracing challenge to Ford’s breath-contoured tone and phrasing.

The Tyner, Shepp and Lateef selections focus, for the most part, on robust but relatively accessible fare. The explosive coda to Shepp’s “Ujaama” finds Ford exulting with a series of chattering, overtone-spiced tenor testimonials that sound adapted from Shepp’s lickbook. But aside from some Trane-like explorations from violinist Blake—who pushes boundaries and discovers new angles, perspectives, and shades of light throughout—it’s not until they take on Lateef’s “Because They Love Me” that the ensemble tears down the safety net for good. Prodded by Sharpe’s quick-fingered bass and Harper’s deft swing, the soloists (including the leader) dig into the song’s quirky stop-time rhythms and tectonic-shift harmonic variations with electrifying results. It’s a fitting finale to a set conceived and executed with a stimulating meld of love, brashness and adventurism.

Originally published in June 2008
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