Down Beat (pp.80-81) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[An] intelligent mix....Over two discs, the band stretches out, giving Sherman and Farnham more choruses....Sherman presents a real band feel, with the quartet speaking as one."
Personnel: Mark Sherman (vibraphone); Allen Farnham (piano); Dean Johnson (bass instrument); Tim Horner (drums).
Audio Mixer: Paul Wickliffe.
Liner Note Author: Mark Sherman.
Recording information: 02/22/2008/02/23/2008.
Recorded live at the Bird's Eye Jazz Club in Basel, Switzerland, this double-disc set is truly indicative of why the Mark Sherman Quartet has consistently captivated its fans around the world. The award-winning vibraphonist continues the great traditions of Milt Jackson and Lionel Hampton as an eloquent voice on the instrument, and throughout the recording embodies the pure lyricism and melodic resonance that made his predecessors so popular with their fans. Pianist Allen Farnham delivers some of his best recorded solos to date, while bassist Dean Johnson holds the bottom end together with a constant array of rhythms and drummer Tim Horner remains a driving force in the music, with great percussive colors that complement those of Sherman's vibes. Disc one opens with "Tip Top Blues." This tune and "Tip Top Rhythm" (which can be heard on disc two) are part of a small series of compositions that encompass the blues form and the rhythm changes so often heard in the standard 32-bar song form of most jazz standards. Sherman and his band deliver their post-bop interpretations with indisputable acumen and exhilaration for over 11 minutes. Their great vibrations continue on "The Winning Life" and the band tears it up; this piece offers each member, especially pianist Allen Farnham, a chance to "blow" -- even though the melody is simple and the changes go through several major keys in the A section. "Trust" is a very cool, mystical ballad that makes its debut on this recording. It features a four-over-three polyrhythm in the melody of the composition and is quite beautiful, perhaps the best song on the CD. "Hope," which was also sequenced on the quartet's One Step Closer album, makes a great return, but this time its arrangement features a matching intro and outro. Disc one ends with "Hardship" and features the band's execution of some very intense lines in the head of the tune and several solos on a blues. Disc two opens with "Explorations," a tune from the ensemble's previous CD, Family First. This song was dedicated to the harmonic innovations of the great saxophonist John Coltrane, and a more fitting tribute by a vibraphonist has yet to be recorded. Two beautiful standards also reside on this disc -- "You Don't Know What Love Is" and "There Is No Greater Love." The ensemble's interpretive improvisations are amazing and thoughtful, with no limits to the bandmembers' pushing of the harmonic envelope. The evaluation of Sherman's music will undoubtedly shift over time, but with the straight-up and swinging takes on these two standards, Sherman's quartet has definitely risen to another level. Henry Mancini's great composition "Moon River" ends the set on the second disc. Sherman's reharmonized rendition and the nostalgic appeal of this tune make it a real keeper. Overall, with Live at the Bird's Eye, the Mark Sherman Quartet fills a vacancy on the jazz scene for an authentic straight-ahead jazz quartet led by a vibraphonist, and this set should justifiably find its place in musical annals as a masterwork. ~ Paula Edelstein
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