Label: Outside In Music, 2019
Personnel - Paul Jones: tenor saxophone; Alex Goodman: guitar; Ben Winkelman: piano; Leo Sherman: bass; Dan Pugach: drums.
New York-based bassist/composer Leo Sherman impregnates his debut album, Tonewheel, with diverse, rewarding content that includes catchy themes, stimulating improvised moments, and energy-filled vamps. The album, conceived as a musical self-portrait, reflects his existence from an early childhood until the present day, and describes sensitive phases such as when he and his family had to run away from Leningrad in 1987, his difficult upbringing in Baltimore, as well as his maturation as a musician in New York. He plays the album’s nine originals alongside saxophone sensation Paul Jones, adventurer guitarist Alex Goodman, eclectic pianist Ben Winkelman, and elegant drummer Dan Pugach.
The first track, “In Flight”, unveils the quintet’s graciously toned expressions. Besides soaring melodies, the theme statement also incorporates a suave middle passage shaped with rhythmically defined piano textures, bowed bass-guitar unisons, and saxophone counter lines. The climax arrives when the soloists - Goodman and Jones - play brilliant colors over smart, dynamic accompaniments.
Similar emotions flow from “Chagall”, a piece that revels in the edgier boundaries of modal post-bop, marked by Pugach’s hi-hat alignments and cymbal conspicuity, a progressive guitar work over pliable drums, and a rhythmically daring testimony by Winkelman. Also the title track, which closes out the album with a dramatic, quasi-theatrical feel due to the melodic folk impressions and bolero rhythm, emphasizes the generally amiable atmosphere felt along the way. However, it’s buoyed up by two dynamic head-to-head discourses delivered by Jones and Goodman, who combine pretty well.
The guitarist’s point of entry as well as his burning in-and-out moves feel so great on “The Eclipse”, where the surfaces are slightly dirtied by a rock pulse, sturdy pedals, and sparkling intensity. Before that, the bandleader had already proclaimed his improvisational qualifications, delivering groovy phrases not averse to melody.
Modifying textures by embracing the piano trio format, the quiet “Nocturne” is predominantly classical, with Pugach excelling in the drum fills and other rich details. He also launches the swinging “Holdover”, another trio effort, where he dovetails his active drumming to a vamp that anticipates the final head.
The disarming versatility of Jones needs to be mentioned. You can hear him blowing lines with languorous passivity on the relaxing ballad “Looking Back Again” and emulating darting ins-and-outs from his tenor on “Aqui Me Quedo”, a song by Chilean songwriter Victor Jara. His impromptu instincts and timbral range are more noticeable on the latter tune due to the contrasting colors applied, since the music ripples and throbs within a stylistic magnitude that goes from a medium-slow ballad to an avant-garde sax burst solely supported by drums.
Unmistakably talented, Sherman reveals great potential as a composer and instrumentalist, and his Tonewheel gives a valuable contribution to the current scene.
02 - The Eclipse ► 06 - Chagall ► 08 - Aqui Me Quedo