by Willard Manus
Sherman Irby is that rare artist, one who can put not only beauty but rationality into the world. For proof, listen to his new album, FAITH, recently released by Black Warrior Records. On it the young but masterful sax player explores ten numbers, all of which are not only imbued with deep, shapely feelings but make strong intellectual statements as well.
Irby was born in Alabama 38 years ago and studied music at Clark Atlanta University. Jobs with Johnny O'Neal, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Marcus Roberts, Betty Carter and Roy Hargrove followed. In New York, Irby was also part of the scene at Smalls, the performance space where jazz musicians gathered to play, rehearse, experiment, listen and share ideas. Irby began to compose as well as play alto and soprano sax; these gifts came to the attention of Blue Note Records, which backed his first two albums, Full Circle and Big Mama's Biscuits.
Irby was in New York on 9/11 and two of the compositions on FAITH were written in response to that tragic and horrifying event--the title number and Fight For Life, the tenth and last cut on the CD. There are anger and sorrow in these pieces, but Irby rises above such knee-jerk responses to focus on the healing power of art, the positive emotions of hope, optimism and love.
It must be stressed, though, that this is not New Age music. Irby is too much of a jazz musician for that, a believer in strong, bold rhythmns and tight-knit, toe-tapping harmonies. He is also accompanied by three jazz stalwarts--Larry Willis (piano), Willie Jones III (drums) and Gerald Cannon (bass)--whose ensemble work on FAITH is quite remarkable. Longtime colleagues of Irby, they seem to be able to read each other's minds as they interact and improvise, weave and build, almost as a single organism.
The only non-Irby originals on the CD are You're Still You, by Ennio Morricone & Linda Thompson, and the Antonio Jobim classic Wave, on which Irby drops the bossa-nova beat to explore the tune's lyrical beauty, with pitch-perfect articulation.
Beauty is the operative word where FAITH is concerned. Every number on it sounds good on the ear...and caresses the heart and mind as well. (Visit shermanirby.com)