Sheryl Bailey: A New Promise (2010)
A New Promise by Sheryl Bailey is an outstanding work from a guitarist (and a rare release from a female jazz guitarist) who can run with the big dogs, in this case a big band ensemble. While her confident and stylish chops might suggest the phraseology of Kenny Burrell or Pat Metheny, she has a unique voice which is probably more closely influenced by forerunner guitarist Emily Remler, to whom Bailey dedicates this release.
This is a homecoming of sorts for Bailey, who's based in New York. She joins forces with the excellent 16-piece Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra, which is based in her hometown of Pittsburgh, where when she was 18 she was inspired to play the guitar after seeing Remler perform. Made in collaboration with producer Marty Ashby and the award-winning Manchester Craftsmen's Guild (MCG) jazz label, this is a first-class production with impeccable sound and energized compositions on the order of the Fat Cat Big Band and guitarist Chris Jentsch's large ensemble recordings.
The ease with which Bailey and the orchestra complement each other is akin to the choreographed movement of intimate dancers. The treasure for the ears begins with the cooker called "Lament," in which abundant horns entice and comp true with the guitarist's soulful chords, inventive soloing, and complex harmonies. "East to Wes" is a silky groove with a splash of Latin, written by Remler in homage to the great Wes Montgomery.
The music discards nostalgia and thrives in the present. Its demeanor is audible on two compositions by Bailey and Three Rivers' co-director/saxophonist Mike Tomaro. "Miekkaniemi" glides with hipness heightened by Jay Ashby's percussion, some funky horn arranging, and a strong rhythm backbone. The title track is thoughtful as somber horns set up a pensive path where Bailey's empathetic strings travel quietly. The power of the big band in all its glory is displayed in "Mocha Spice," another piece written by Remler. Horns swirl and trade fiercely within the infectious percussion-laden tempo.
There are pristine examples of the guitarist's fretboard acumen. Her intro in "Unified Field" is filled with technique, grace, and strength. The tune speaks the "blues with sophistication" as the horns vamp the melody's sentiment. Later, another magical intro is found in Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz's classic "You and the Night," followed by some blistering spots by Bailey and James Moore on trumpet.
A wonderful program from start to finish, A New Promise is the sixth release from an already accomplished and refreshing voice. Bailey has made good on a promise to herself to work hard and become a great player, as her musical abilities will attest. Emily Remler would be proud.
Track Listing: Lament; East to Wes; Miekkaniemi; A New Promise; Mocha Spice; Unified Field; Carenia; You and the Night.
Personnel: Sheryl Bailey: guitar; Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra: Mike Tomaro: co- director, soprano and alto saxophones; Jim Guerra: alto saxophone; Eric DeFade: tenor saxophone; Rick Matt: tenor saxophone; Jim Germann: baritone saxophone; Steve Hawk: co-director, lead trumpet; Joe Herndon: trumpet; Steve McKnight: trumpet; James Moore: trumpet; Ralph Guzzi: trumpet; Reggie Watkins: lead trombone; Clayton DeWalt: trombone; Ross Garin: trombone; Christopher Carson: bass trombone; Paul Thompson: bass; David Glover: drums. Special guests: Jay Ashby: trombone (2), percussion (3, 5, 7); Marty Ashby: acoustic guitar (2, 5, 7); Hendrick Meurkens: vibes (6).