Anyone who had the pleasure of hearing Avery Sharpe collaborate with McCoy Tyner in concert during their long association is aware of the bassist’s ability to move from the role of light-fingered accompanist to commanding soloist with great charm and deceptive ease. Not surprisingly, the same gifts are evident on Running Man, though of course Sharpe is calling the shots here, doubling on acoustic bass and six-string electric and contributing eight of the album’s 11 tunes.
Running Man isn’t designed as a showcase for Sharpe, however, or anyone else for that matter. The emphasis is squarely on ensemble performance, beginning with the album’s title cut, an emotionally dramatic piece inspired by Olympic legend Jesse Owens and charged by Craig Handy’s soprano saxophone. It’s the first of several tunes by Sharpe—“Rwandan Escape,” “Ancestry Delight” and “Silent War” are others—that combine his talents for composing and arranging with a socially conscious perspective that helps sets this session apart.
Mind you, folks wishing to hear Sharpe flex his fingers or pick up his bow won’t be disappointed by Running Man. Particularly soulful is the arco playing on “Silent War,” which features vocalist Maya Sharpe, the bassist’s gifted daughter. But the wide-angle focus is both welcome and effective, thanks to the substantial tunes and a cohesive lineup that boasts Handy, who doubles on tenor, pianist Onaje Allen Gumbs and drummer Yoron Israel. Gumbs’ percussive postbop blues “Jump!,” by the way, earns its exclamation point in bar one.