Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mark Sherman Quartet: Live at the Bird's Eye

Mile High Records
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.5.09
Buy CD: Live at the Bird's Eye

Mark Sherman began his musical career as a classical pianist, and played with the Cleveland and Boston Symphony Orchestras before he discovered jazz.

During his early years as a jazz man, and while studying at Juilliard, he was a percussionist; because of his earlier training as a pianist, the switch to vibraphone and marimba was preordained. He met — and performed with — Wynton Marsalis while at Juilliard; Marsalis' endorsement paved the way for Sherman's first contract with Columbia Records.

He initially made his living doing studio work in New York City, but soon was working with back-up groups for some of the top vocalists in the music business. Sherman was part of the Peggy Lee Quintet for seven years, and also backed up luminaries such as Lena Horne, Liza Minnelli, Mel Torme and the jazz duo of Jackie and Roy.

Sherman's extensive discography includes seven albums as a leader, almost 50 as a sideman, and another half dozen as a producer.

The quartet used for this double-CD release — recorded live at the Bird's Eye Jazz Club in Basel, Switzerland — features Sherman (vibes), Allen Farnham (piano), Dean Johnson (bass) and Tim Horner (drums). Seven of the 10 tracks were written and arranged by Sherman; the remaining three are covers of the ballads “You Don't Know What Love Is,” “There Is No Greater Love” and “Moon River.”

The result is what I'd call “thinking man's jazz”; the melodic lines are clever, complex and carefully arranged, and the solos are melded into those lines thoughtfully. Everything swings nicely, although at times Sherman's vibes work convey a “Gee, look how fast I can play!” feeling.

No doubt, though: The guy is a master of his instrument.

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