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Project Them-- Bob Franceschini and Mark Sherman

As classmates at the High School of Music and Art in New York, Bob Franceschini and Mark Sherman hoped to one day form their own group together, and now many years later the veteran tenor saxophonist and vibraphonist have achieved that goal with their new group Project Them. After two European tours the co-leaders took their well-honed band into a studio for the first time, and the result is this powerful and stirring post bop music drawn from inspiring originals by five of the players. Franceschini is best known for his work with the Yellowjackets and Mike Stern, having appeared on that guitarist's last four Grammy-nominated CDs. Sherman, an educator and a Jazz Ambassador abroad for the U.S. State Department, has 10 albums as a leader under his belt and has performed on over 160 others. Completing this significant American / European ensemble are bassist Martin Gjakonovski, drummer Adam Nussbaum, and keyboardists Mitchel Forman and Paolo di Sabatino, who are each heard on five of the 10 tracks.

A tone row from Sherman precedes the robustly undulating theme of "Submissive Dominants," as stated by vibes and tenor. Franceschini's solo explores all the nooks and crannies of this substantial structure with controlled passion, spurred on by Nussbaum's aggressive commentary and the clarity of Forman's comping. Sherman's improv maintains a deceptively subtle simmer in its gliding intensity and captivating creativity. Nussbaum's backbeat and Gjakonovski's bass pattern set the stage for the funky "Sleight of Hand." Forman's solo is soulfully prancing, while Sherman's hints fittingly at Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance." Franceschini effectively utilizes various riffs and motifs in his outing, and Nussbaum bursts forth electrifyingly before a tenor sax reprise of the enjoyable down home theme. The spiritual "We" initially finds Franceschini taking a fervent approach sonically that evokes both John Coltrane and Gato Barbieri. Sherman's tranquil and moving solo is in stark contrast, and Franceschini follows with a more personalized and eloquent turn, during which both Gjakonovski and Nussbaum rise to the occasion in tandem with sensitively assertive aplomb.

Sherman's "Solitude" has a gently swaying melody with a folk-like air, which Franceschini handles with appealing delicacy. His ingratiating solo is elevated by Sherman's shimmering vibes and Forman's softly warbling organ. The relaxed lyricism of Sherman's exploration compares favorably to Gary Burton's balladic stylings. For "The South Song," Franceschini's flute elucidates the sweet-tempered, dancing theme, with Sherman taking on the pensive bridge as well as the first thematically nourishing solo. Composer Gjakonovski's resonant and persuasive statement, and Nussbaum's drum rolling interlude further distinguish this alluring track. Franceschini's "Minor Turns" has the clever, streamlined logic of a John Scofield tune, and its writer has a grand time juicing its potential in his compelling solo, which refers to the harmonies of Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Sherman also keeps the Trane tune as a key reference point in his diversely textured spot. The relentless pulse of Nussbaum's drumming kicks this selection up yet another notch in magnitude.

The lovely theme of Paul Williams and Johnny Mandel's "Close Enough for Love," the session's only standard, is split knowingly between vibes and tenor, with di Sabatino's lightly lyrical solo setting an example for those that succeed it from Sherman and Franceschini, the latter's more acute, edgy exuberance serving as the high point pre-reprise. A relaxed swing is "A Short Swing," with an elegantly harmonized line transmitted by Franceschini and Sherman. The vibes solo evinces a metallic Milt Jackson sound, in addition to Bags-like finely filigreed extended lines. Franceschini's contribution builds thematically with a delectable assortment of distinctive tonalities. Franceschini's flute, composer di Sabatino's lucidly articulated piano, and Sherman's ringing vibes help make "Ma Bo's Waltz" a waltzing pleasure ride. The solos from the pianist and Sherman are spiritedly conceived and realized. The closing "Angular Blues" is based on a scalar tone row that spurs a steamy Franceschini tenor solo with Joe Lovanoesque shrieks at its apex. Sherman's trip sustains a slow boil, while Forman's short but satisfying B3 improv takes the middle ground between Jimmy Smith and Larry Young.

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Scott Albin