Sheryl Bailey gets playful and virtuosic at the Bull’s Head

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Sheryl Bailey, one of New York’s foremost guitarists and now a frequent visitor on the UK’s jazz circuit, finished her most recent tour here in London last Saturday at the Bull’s Head, Barnes. Kicking off with the Dexter Gordon classic ‘Cheesecake’, she got straight down to business with several energetic choruses, revealing a formidable technique, a deep well of ideas and a hard-swinging momentum reminiscent of Pat Martino. Bassist Simon Woolf, introducing their next piece, remarked: “It’s always easier to write a tune on another song’s chord changes than to come up with the obligatory punnish title”. The entire quartet had great fun with ‘Blown Away’, written by Woolf on the chord progression of the standard ‘Gone with the Wind’ and pianist Gabriel Latchin showed his mettle both as a creative risk-taking soloist and as a playful, prodding accompanist, determined to support and inspire the leader who responded with ever-more imaginative flights.

'Saint Nick', from Bailey’s recent acoustic duo album with bassist Harvie S, (Plucky Strum), along with 'One for V.J.' (from her album A Meeting of Minds with fellow-guitarist Vic Juris) revealed her talent for writing interesting songs with strong melodies. Drummer Sebastiaan de Krom, featured in Benny Golson’s Along Came Betty, opened with aclassic bossa groove with one stick and one brush and continued this theme into an excellent solo, becoming ever quieter until the logical conclusion – total silence – before reversing the process and leading the band back in. The guitarist responded to Bronislaw Kaper’s Invitation with a stream of melodic ideas and pleasing surprises while Jobim’s How Insensitive (with Woolf bowing the melody on bass) displayed her more reflective side.

Closing with the Wes Montgomery classic, ‘Four on Six’, Sheryl Bailey confirmed her status as one of the most interesting and distinctive jazz guitarists on today’s scene. Her exciting style combines a virtuosic command of the guitar fingerboard with an acute harmonic sense, a strong rhythmic vocabulary and a talent to construct solos with a narrative quality.

– Charles Alexander