By Scott Yanow | Published January 2018
Alto saxophonist Sherman Irby has been an important force in modern straightahead jazz for some time. On Cerulean Canvas, he mostly leads a quintet in which he shares the front line with either Vincent Gardner or (on three selections) Elliot Mason on trombone.
While the individual playing is top-notch, it is the combination of arranged and jammed ensembles that really makes this a special recording and keeps the music from ever becoming too predictable. The program begins with “Racine,” a cooking minor blues named after bassist Gerald Cannon’s hometown. Cannon opens and closes the piece, which includes fine solos from Irby, Gardner and pianist Eric Reed. The latter is featured on “Blues For Poppa Reed,” a medium-tempo blues that has some altered changes and particularly colorful ensembles.
More somber is “From Day To Day,” a Mulgrew Miller piece performed in tribute to the late pianist. “Willie’s Beat,” although named after Willie Jones III, is most notable for Mason’s long and rambunctious improvisation and a fine spot for Irby. “Blue Twirl” is the most complex piece, the dissonant ensemble passages giving way to some boppish solos. Irby is in top form on “John Bishop Blues,” displaying his beautiful tone unaccompanied at first.
Cerulean Canvas is filled with modern swing, excellent playing by all of the musicians, and one excellent song after another with no throwaways. It is one of Irby’s most rewarding recordings to date.
Cerulean Canvas: Racine; Blues For Poppa Reed; From Day To Day; Willie’s Beat aka The Sweet Science; Contemplation; Smile Please; Blue Twirl: A Portrait Of Sam Gilliam; John Bishop Blues; Sweet Georgia Brown; SYBAD. (76:18)
Personnel: Sherman Irby, alto saxophone; Vincent Gardner, Elliot Mason, trombone; Eric Reed, piano; Gerald Cannon, bass; Willie Jones III, drums; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet (8, 10).