Sheryl Bailey Quartet get Swinging at 606

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There is a significant coterie of jazz fans that come away disappointed if a show labelled as jazz doesn’t swing. Sheryl Bailey as caught at the 606 club last Thursday night is their kind of performer. She makes no apologies for a style of music making that largely disregards the jazz/rock fusion idiom and noise-based offshoots, and builds her show around much-loved jazz standards as performed during the late 1960s, and references the likes of Bill Evans, Pat Martino and Benny Golson. She intersperses these with her own compositions, which slot seamlessly into that style of music making, such as ‘Saint Nick’, written to honour a close friend.

Sheryl plugs her guitar straight in to an amplifier with no pedals or special effects intervening, and achieves a traditional warm, mellow, clean but rich jazz tone. The timbre may be mellow, but the tempo is not. Her soaring flights of harmonic invention are taken at a breathless pace, but not at the expense of melody, or tenderness of expression. At a workshop she hosted earlier in the week, the speed with which she forms harmonic connections was striking, as she outlined her ‘micro-cosmic bebop line’, which forms the basis of much of her soloing; and how this is preferable to runs rooted in the mixolydian scale.

An aspect of Sheryl Bailey’s guitar sound in that in choosing to eschew the ‘attack’ or edge of many leading modern players, she is not highlighting for the audience what to listen out for, but expecting them to make some of the effort in eliciting meaning and context from the tunes, rather like prose stripped of excessive use of exclamation marks and emoji.

Bailey was well served by the other members of the quartet. She and bassist Simon Woolf go back some way, having played together on previous tours. The quartet performed a thirteen bar tune of his, ‘Unlucky for Some’, a lilting jazz-waltz. Gabriel Latchin on the piano had the tricky role of providing support to her overall musical vision, but also of contributing an alternative lead voice affording Sheryl occasional respite from the spotlight. He fulfilled this role with aplomb with an array of swinging and tuneful solos, and his contributions were integral to the manner in which the overall performance gelled. The take on Phil Woods’ ‘Goodbye Mr Evans’ was a highlight, and during this number drummer Sebastiaan de Krom elicited particularly lovely sounds using the brushes, and then contributed a crowd-pleasing solo during the take on Wes Montgomery’s ‘Four on Six’, that swelled to a powerful crescendo.

As an encore the quartet performed ‘How Insensitive’, a tune, Sheryl quipped, with more than a little irony, which could be her theme song, before she despatched it with a heartfelt, tender reading. Or perhaps she was referring to her reactions to students who don’t quite pass muster? When not touring and recording, activities which have resulted in her gaining recognition as a ‘rising star’ of jazz guitar, her other role is as assistant professor at the renowned Berklee School of music. During this tune, it fell to Simon Woolf’s use of the bow to draw out the melody for others in the quartet to improvise around.

– Graham Boyd