One of the best aspects of the way the advances in technology have allowed virtually anyone (and at times seemingly everyone - including some who maybe shouldn't) to release CDs of their music onto an unsuspecting audience is the fact that sometimes truly talented artists, who would probably be passed over my major labels, have been able to gain control of their own careers and release fine original music without the restrictions that come from a major label relationship. A case in point is the exceptional bassist/composer, Avery Sharpe, who is best known for his long association as a sideman with McCoy Tyner as well as numerous others, including Yusef Lateef and Archie Shepp. Sharpe has released a string of albums, including last year's fine "Legends and Mentors" (see our review here) that have brought the musicianship and composition skills into light for all to admire. And there is much to admire in Sharpe's writing and playing.
On Autumn Moonlight, the Boston-based bassist is backed by pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs and young drum lion Winard Harper. Sharpe provides six originals, Onaje two, with covers of Woody Shaw ("Organ Grinder") and James Taylor ("Fire and Rain") rounding out the program. The highly enjoyable “Boston Baked Blues” starts things off in relaxed and swinging fashion. Gumbs shows a nice touch and Harper is creative while being tasteful and supportive, while Sharpe gets a solo spot that shows him to be a master at fast melodic riffing on the acoustic bass. Sharp’s singing is pleasant and shows what a great sense of humor and joy of life the man has.
Following that good time selection is the enchanting version of "Fire and Rain." Again, the mood is relaxed and the spirits high - one would be hard pressed to remember the song was written by Mr. Taylor for a friend who committed suicide. The somewhat Latin-flavored title track follows with some really nice vocalizing from Sharpe (another talent). Meanwhile his solo bass lines are velocious, yet rich and full. Things speed up a bit on the aptly titled “Take Your Time, But Hurry” which features rapid unison lines and a burning/churning middle section. But despite the rapidity, the trio seems thoroughly in control and never rushed. Harper’s solo here is exciting, but gracious and Sharpe again displays his mastery. Gumbs' stately "Palace of the Seven Jewels" finishes up the first half on a high note. A truly lovely number - a showcase for Gumbs' artistry on the ivories and a great example of trio playing at the ballad pace.
The pattern continues through much of Autumn Moonlight, with Shaw's "Organ Grinder" given the Avery Sharpe treatment (listen to the little grunts and groans and "grinding" coming from the bass). "Intrepid Warrior" is a tour de force of shifting styles, time signatures and moods (with another fantastic Sharpe bass solo), a delicious Sharpe ballad ("Lost in a Dream"), the folksy/bluesy "Visible Man," and Gumbs' bouncy and romantic "First Time We Met" to end things on a high note. Yet despite the fact that instrumentation stays consistent, the sound never gets old. In fact, the music is so well conceived and the players (especially Sharpe) so active, that one loses sight that this is indeed only a trio. With Autumn Moonlight, Sharpe reaffirms and builds on his legacy both as a composer and as a truly phenomenal jazz bassist.