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Sherman Irby shows off, but can't show up Wynton Marsalis


Sherman Irby and Momentum, "Cerulean Canvas" (Black Warrior)

Sherman Irby isn't the most powerful alto saxophonist to have played in one of the much-vaunted ensembles of Wynton Marsalis. Wessel Anderson and Donald Harrison provide solid competition for any alto player who ever heard a stirring alto player in a Marsalis band.

But Sherman Irby is a marvelous player currently shown off quite substantially in Marsalis' Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. His own band here  is usually a quintet with a trombonist from the band as fellow soloist with Irby and Marsalis' longtime favorite pianist Eric Reed. By far, the highlights of the disc are "John Bishop Blues" and "Sybad," the two tracks where Irby's leader Wynton Marsalis shows up to turn the heat up. The former is a blues preaching of elemental and primal feeling. You can hear Marsalis grunt "yeah" at Irby when his solo really begins to take wing. When it's time for him to play Marsalis keeps it lyrical without conjugating blues into territory that would compete with Irby. Pianist Eric Reed, though, is happy to do that.

"Sybad" concludes the disc with a tribute to the Lincoln Center Band's late baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley, from Scotland. That's where Marsalis best comes into his own on his alto player's disc. There is, alas, no substitute for Wynton, no matter how many or how few choruses he plays.

3 stars (out of four)






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