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Live @ The Fat Cat by Sheryl Bailey

Since appearing on the scene in the 1990s, Sheryl Bailey has become of the most highly-rated young guitarists in jazz, with five CDs, two books, and an assistant professorship at the Berkeley College of Music to her credit. Sheryl's playing was described by Guitar Player Magazine in 1995 as "always lyrical and lush, with just the right amount of harmonic angularity and tangy dissonance . . . bolstered by her beautifully burnished tone," while Jazz Times' Bill Milkowski has described her as: " a modernist burner with an abundance of Pat Martino-style chops."

All of these qualities are evident in Sheryl's most recent release which finds her in the classic organ trio setting to which she brings her own unique perspective, one which she freely admits has been informed as much by an early interest in rock as by her more recent attraction to jazz; it is no surprise that an early hero of Sheryl's was Larry Coryell who spans both genres. "Like most 13 year olds," she told, "I wanted to be a rock star - I was into ‘classic rock' and heavy metal: Black Sabbath, Cream, Hendrix, Robin Trower, Van Halen, AC-DC - I had a basement band . . . Today I still love all of those bands and my friend and mentor, Jack Wilkins, Johnny Smith, Grant Green, Wes, and of course Pat Martino." The organ-guitar-drums trio, which lends itself to funk as much as bebop, allows her to mine all these influences, and she has settled on this combination for her working group. "I had been hearing an organ trio setting in my head that I wanted to write for," she told guitarnoise, "but I didn't have the right players - I wanted to extend the Grant Green/Larry Young/Elvin Jones path - not go on the groove organ trio path, but the modern jazz organ trio path."

Add Tony Williams' Lifetime, Jimmy Smith/Kenny Burrell/Grady Tate, and John Abercrombie/Dan Wall/Adam Nussbaum, and Sheryl & Co. have some large shoes to fill. But with the help of Gary Versace on organ and Ian Fromann on drums, this trio is up there with the best of them. What makes it work, apart from the musicianship of all involved, is the unashamed enthusiasm, one might almost say abandon, with which Sheryl displays all the components of her technique, and her range of influences, from her garage band beginnings-front and center on "Swamp Thang"-through Coryell, Metheny, Martino, et. al., all brought together and tempered through her own, very distinct musical intelligence. She comes in for a good deal of criticism from ‘purists' for using chorus and other effects, she told me. But she clearly does not care. Nor should she; these techniques are an intrinsic part of her musical personality. And they are all on display here as she spins out long lines with unfailing clarity, technical command, tonal variety, and rhythmic incisiveness. Versace is an equally impressive soloist as well as a sensitive accompanist who does what always impresses me about organists-plays bass lines with his feet. Froman is right there throughout, Bailey's writing sets just the right tone for the trio, and the recording captures the excitement of a live performance.

Up to now the organ trio has not been one of my favorite jazz ensembles, but this recording sent me out looking for other examples of the genre. Highly recommended.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Sheryl Bailey
  • CD Title: Live @ The Fat Cat
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Pure Music Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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