With its R&B and funk grooves and rock and hip-hop energy, Evolve seems to wear its title as an imperative. Certainly it’s a long stride from alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity’s prior three records of straight-ahead swing. Yet it works; in fact, it triumphs.
Credit goes to Cassity’s supreme confidence in her vision. The opening title track immediately evidences her progression, perfectly at home in in its sumptuous rhythmic swagger, bold electronic timbres (both Miki Hayama’s synths and Cassity’s own processed solo) and unusual harmonies. The same is true on “The Here, the Now” and “Outlier.” She also proves an able lyricist: “Wishing Star” is no poetic masterpiece, but it amplifies the sweetness and hope of the pretty tune behind it, Christie Dashiell’s light-tough vocal delivery running parallel to the warmth and delicacy of Cassity’s alto solo.
More than her overall vision has evolved, however; Cassity’s playing has also grown. It’s clear from the choice morsels she serves up in her duel with trumpeter Marcus Printup on Alicia Keys’ “New Day,” and perhaps even more so in her long but careful improvisational architecture on “The Here, the Now.” “All Is Full of Love,” meanwhile, finds her deftly balancing subtlety and unrelenting groove. Equally important is her presence as a bandleader. Cassity coaxes from Printup perhaps the best recorded solos of his career on “Be the Change,” as well as a jewel from guitarist Mark Whitfield and one of her own. (Elektra’s other trumpeter, Ingrid Jensen, is typically brilliant on “Evolve” and “The Here, the Now.”) Meanwhile, on the ballad “Echoes of Home,” she knows to simply stay out of the way of Hayama and bassist Linda May Han Oh. With any luck, Evolve will establish her as a household name among jazz audiences.
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