Today's jazz guitarists are lauded not only for their technique but also for their approach, their concept (like Kurt Rosenwinkel's tonal experiments or Bill Frisell's spare, mannered sonic eccentricity). An overlooked talent in this regard is Sheryl Bailey, but her concepts are not quite as conspicuous as the aforementioned axemen. She mentions her affection for the Grant Green-Larry Young-Elvin Jones axis, which has been an inspiration for her own trio with keyboardist Gary Versace and drummer Ian Froman. The Monk Competition finalist (she won third place in the guitar competition in 1995) has also played alongside varied talents including bassist Richard Bona, David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness, pop vocalist Irene Cara and folk-jazz vocalist/guitarist KJ Denhert. Since 2002, with the release of The Power of 3, the Sheryl Bailey 3 has been exploring the possibilities of the jazz organ trio while avoiding both cliche and contrivance. The new release Live at the Fat Cat documents a 2005 performance of the trio.
The original "Cedar's Mood" has a stately, catchy melody with a fitting vamp-and-release structure favored by its namesake. Bailey's chops are in top shape for her solo here with a fuzzy yet full tone. Hearing her faster lines, it's not surprising that critics liken her to virtuosos like George Benson and Pat Martino. Versace's organ work here indeed recalls Larry Young but with his own rhapsodic flair while Froman's buoyant kit stylings keep the group afloat. Another Bailey original, "A Soft Green Light," showcases the trio's dynamic range with swells from the B3 and Bailey's own playing ranging from whispered echoes in the manner of John Abercrombie (who is mentioned often on this blog, it seems) to some assertive, well-executed single-note runs. Fans of her last two albums, The Power of 3 and Bull's Eye, will be treated to some live versions of "Starbrite," "Elvin People" and "Swamp Thang." "Midnite Swim" is another standout composition with Bailey's quarter-note triplet melody draped casually over Froman's brisk brushwork. This tension is subtle but important for the piece's character. In the listing of the album's personnel, Bailey's instruments are noted as the guitar and pen; both are equally compelling in her hands.
To return to the idea of concepts, I should mention that Bailey's approach to her instrument is somewhat unusual yet perfectly sensible. She credits Rodney Jones with teaching her how to pick sideways to generate a fuller sound and to avoid the errant "ping" a guitarist gets from overpicking a string. She also uses bronze strings intended for an acoustic guitar to get the warm sound she desires. As mentioned above, heterodoxy often brings players to the foreground, but Bailey's methods are for purely practical purposes. Her approach serves her "voice" while her music remains accessible (and impressive) to any jazz fan.
Buy Live at the Fat Cat.
Also, check out herSpace as well as video clips from her CD release party ("Cedar's Mood" and "Tune Down"). Curious minds can explore the "Press" page on her website for articles on her technique, theory and wisdom from experience:
"Jazz challenges one to understand harmony and how harmony relates to melody. I'm a bit fanatical about harmonic clarity, meaning really making the changes clear in your melodic line. A great line is one that can stand on its own, and the harmony accompanying it is clearly understood."