Mark Shim: Turbulent Flow

It’s a good thing that Mark Shim’s new CD arrived during a cold snap, because he’s really turned up the heat. The Jamaican-born, Brooklyn-based saxophonist already warmed things up during sideman gigs with Betty Carter, David Murray, the Mingus Big Band and, most recently, with Terrence Blanchard. His first solo CD, 1998’s simmering Mind Over Matter, solidified his reputation as an inventive soloist and leader. Turbulent Flow is a persuasive argument that Shim is now among the handful of hottest young tenors.

For this session, Shim has gathered a group that might make Smokey the Bear nervous. The fiery rhythm section includes drummer Eric Harland (returning from Shim’s first CD), bassist Drew Gress and Edward Simon, playing both piano and Fender Rhodes. Blue Note label-mate Stefon Harris appears on three cuts playing either vibes or marimba.

While the group does a fine job covering Joe Henderson’s “Recorda Me,” it’s Shim’s challenging original compositions that stand out. The title track is built around a simple phrase fragmented by unexpected rhythmic accents. The harmonic framework is constantly moving, shifting, spinning, seemingly free of starting point or ending. There’s no way for a musician to coast playing this kind of music, and it brings out the best in all the soloists, especially Shim, Gress and Harris. The biggest surprise is the final piece. “Eminence (For Betty Carter)” is a heartfelt tribute to the late vocalist and educator. It’s got a soulful, mellow groove that might get some play on the hippest, smooth-jazz stations.