October  2002

The Sheryl Bailey 3 - The Power of 3
Pure Music Records CD-PMR21402
Released: 2001

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on DVD]After hearing jazz guitarist Sheryl Bailey’s last disc, Reunion of Souls, I couldn’t wait to hear what direction she’d take next. When I read on her website that she was going to do an organ-trio disc, I knew I wanted to hear it, but I wondered if it was a good career move. Many jazz listeners and a few critics dismiss any jazz that uses a Hammond B3 in its rhythm section as something beneath serious consideration.

That’s their problem and their loss. However, this isn’t the right place for a defense of the soul-jazz that most people identify with the B3, especially since The Power of 3 carries the organ-trio concept into new areas. Bailey takes her cue from a number of guitar/organ combinations, but the one she cites as her favorite is Grant Green and Larry Young. The sessions they recorded together were rarely just casual blowing sessions. Young in particular was always searching for ways to use the Hammond as a vehicle for real musical expression in jazz.

The same can also be said of The Power of 3. Bailey and her cohorts, Gary Versace on organ and Ian Froman on drums, retain some of the swinging, casual fun that we associate with organ trios, yet Bailey -- who composed all the tunes here and produced the disc -- also presents us with eight carefully arranged tunes that let her search out the harmonic and tonal possibilities of the electric guitar and organ. Like John Scofield, she has the ability to write infectious melodies that are also a solid basis for musical exploration.

A good deal of the enjoyment from The Power of 3 comes from hearing these musicians -- all still in their 30s -- demonstrate such sure command of their instruments. All three have impressive academic backgrounds, but their playing doesn’t feel studied or too formal. Bailey combines astonishing command of the fingerboard with a seemingly endless flow of melodic invention. Even her flashiest lines are unpredictable and fresh, and she’s nearly as impressive as an accompanist. Her extensive knowledge of guitar chords and her strong rhythmic sense allow her to provide complex, beautiful support for Versace -- listening to her comp is almost as big a kick as hearing her solo.

This is my first encounter with Versace, whose work has some of the angular funkiness and willingness to broaden the B3’s possibilities as Larry Young’s. He doesn’t venture into the kind of avant-garde or free jazz areas that Young explored -- Bailey’s tunes don’t really present those possibilities -- but he does explore the tonal characteristics of the organ with an apparent determination to avoid merely retracing the steps of other players. Bailey’s tunes give him plenty of room to stretch out, and he responds with solos that are as melodic and intelligently felt as hers are.

I might have wished for a bit more presence in the recording of Froman, especially his cymbal work. He supports the other two players subtly and his accents throughout the disc are enthusiastic and smart. While I demoted the recording a half star for sound quality, I’m tempted to give it back as a reward for the warm ambiance of the session. The album credits note that the disc was recorded live in the studio and you can tell. It has the same flow and spontaneity as Reunion of Souls, but it’s a better recording overall.

Bailey's one minor slip here is a song written in response to the terrorist attack last year. The disc’s liner notes don’t say much about Bailey’s intent, so she may have been attempting to pull something hopeful out of such terrible events. I think the composition would have had more power had it been given a darker edge.

But neither that nor anything else should keep you from hearing this disc. Bailey is the kind of guitarist who should enjoy a wide audience. She has the rare combination of accessibility and seriousness that often spells both popular success and critical acclaim. She has the technical skills and the writing ability. All she needs now is a major-label push. No other guitarist her age is close to being the fully formed artist she is today.