Review by Brad Walseth
On "Legends and Mentors," bassist Avery Sharpe offers up a powerfully heart-felt tribute to three Jazz masters, with whom he has been associated with in his career. With two songs apiece from each of the three, McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef, along with an original composition written by Sharpe for each of his mentors, Sharpe pays homage to the legendary musicians who have played such an important part in his (and in Jazz music in general's) development.
Divided into three sections with the original composition, followed by the two covers formulating a section, Sharpe starts things off with his hard-hitting, but loving "Big Mac" for Tyner, the pianist whose group he has been a member of for two decades. Pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs and reedman Joe Ford especially shine on this strong composition, while Sharpe and drummer Winard Harper drive the tune forward, Violinist John Blake is an added treat and enhances the second song, Tyner’s lovely "Ballad for Aisha." Sharpe's lightning fast solo is a surprise here, and shows just how talented the man is as a player. Rounding out the Tyner section is "Fly With the Wind," a '70s-style Afro-Bossa that has aged well and given an enjoyable workout by the band here.
Shepp was one of Sharpe’s music professors, with whom he developed a close relationship. "The Chief" pays respects to Shepp in a beautifully paced original composition, with Ford, Blake and Sharpe providing exceptional solos. The lilting jazz waltz, "Steam" is enlivened by Ford's soprano, which combines with Blake’s violin nicely. "Ujaama" picks the pace up considerably with a delightful burner with nice solos. Throughout, Sharpe’s full rich tone and unerring sense of rhythm is the backbone for everything around him.
Dedicated to Yusef Lateef, "Gentle Giant" features Ford's flute in an even more pronounced African direction, which also features an unaccompanied solo by Sharpe followed by a drum solo by Harper. Lateef's "Morning" is a beautiful piece with Sharpe mirroring Ford's bluesy melody over percussion and piano. Ford‘s alto shines, and this little gem also includes a delicious solo by Sharpe. The rollicking 11:22 free jam of "Because They Love Me" ends this satisfying release on a high note with all the group members interacting at a high level of musical discourse. A fitting offering to teachers and friends from a grateful student, "Legends and Mentors" is a potent collection of harder edged mainstream Jazz with a distinct and welcome African flavor.