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Leo Sherman’s debut recording is an evocative collection of fresh originals that renders a sonic portrait of his life’s pivotal moments. The Leningrad-born, New York City-based bassist, composer and newly minted bandleader showcases a wide-ranging palette of nuances in both trio and quintet settings, accompanied by a dynamic, forward-looking cast — tenor saxophonist Paul Jones, guitarist Alex Goodman, pianist Ben Winkelman and drummer Dan Pugach.
Sherman’s nine tracks utilize a rich harmonic soundscape and a sophisticated approach to melody as intertwining strands with which to weave the stories that have informed his experiences — from childhood and his formative years in Baltimore to his current life as a jazz musician in NYC. The aptly titled opener, “In Flight,” sets the course with the airy optimism of a new life. Universal themes of migration and the search for home fuel the track’s steadily ascending melodies over Winkelman’s rhythmic circularity on piano.
Sherman scales back to a piano trio on “Nocturne” and “Holdover,” deftly anchoring the album midway with an “opposites attract” dichotomy. On the former, Winkelman, Sherman and Pugach commune within classical-inspired meanderings and unexpected tempo shifts, the drummer artfully embellishing the piece with poignant percussive accents. The latter, a blistering vamp, swings with up-tempo exuberance. Jones’ raw brilliance on tenor is fully displayed on “Aquí Me Quedo,” a song by Chilean singer-songwriter Victor Jara. Goaded by drums, the saxophonist scrapes out a guttural timbral range, eliciting an unsettling tone that segues into subdued piano and rummaging bass. The title-track closer reaffirms the album’s emphasis on each part’s relationship to the whole and the in-between spaces that make that possible.
Sherman may have encapsulated his life thus far on a single album, but Tonewheel is permeated by the promise of what’s to come. — Lissette Corsa