BOPITUDE WITH SHAREL CASSITY
The Daily Grind
July 25, 2014
by Tom Pierce
The superlative performance of Michael Benedict’s invigoratingly hard-driving band Bopitude, with guest artist, rising star alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity, at the Daily Grind came as no surprise to the many in attendance familiar over the past 4 years with their exciting live performances and two highly lauded CD’s. But last night’s intensely delivered 90 minute set of seven passionately riveting songs more than exceeded even these expectations. As one audience member (veteran trumpeter Rob Fisch) posted on Facebook during the show, “Sharel is Smokin’ on fire, and so is the rest of the band”.
Following is the absorbing songlist from Michael Benedict that consistently had the audience riveted: 1) “Monk’s Dream” (Thelonious Monk); 2) “Alter Ego” (James Williams); 3) “A La Mode” (Curtis Fuller); 4) “Sonny’s Mode” (Sonny Clark); 5) “Chelsea Bridge” (Billy Strayhorn); 6) “Think of One” (Thelonious Monk); 7) “Eternal Triangle” (Sonny Stitt). As usual, he chose inventive, compelling composers who wrote songs for some of the most significant bands in jazz.
Bopitude is correctly most often identified with the freewheeling, aggressive, soulful aspects associated with the Hard Bop sub-genre, popularized by famous 1950’s & 1960’s combos. But these tunes also exhibited a range of other engrossing qualities (complexity, wit, drama, melodic interest, etc) not often cited, which provide each song an appealing individuality.
Each member of the horn section (Sharel Cassity on alto, Brian Patneaude on tenor and Chris Pasin on trumpet) maintained a bold, assertively probing approach from the opening notes of their solos to the end, that consistently established an excitement “lift” that the audience clearly appreciated. Their ensemble passages (either all three horns or two nicely in support of a soloist) were cleanly and pleasingly projected. And they each effectively used the limited length of their solos (that usually had to allow for space for 3-4 other soloists) to make crisply meaningful, building, non-repetitive statements that varied from song-to-song and seemed often inspired by the previous soloist. The rhythm section (David Gleason on piano, Mike Lawrence on bass and Michael Benedict on drums) was very prominent in providing the clear, steady pulse, with dynamic accents, that drove the horn line and also led the audience’s body language to viscerally react to that cushion.
Brian Patneaude’s tenor, truly impressed me for his warmth, swing, powerful, but controlled swagger and his enviable ability to so effectively adapt his approach to the many different musical situations he excels in – the very definition of a Professional. Chris Pasin has become another musician over the past few years I admire enormously, as he consistently brings to each band exactly what’s needed, whether it’s an inventive, sometimes almost “free”, modal style or a powerful, dynamically soaring persona, with Bopitude, where his solos kept reminding me of the incredible work of Freddie Hubbard, who I loved seeing in the 1960’s with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Pianist Dave Gleason’s swinging work (often with slight traces of a Latin flair), either soloing or comping behind the ensemble statements and others’ solos was also very delightful.
Sharel Cassity’s resonantly strong, emphatic attack (interestingly more tenor-sounding than an alto) immediately established with those hearing her for the first time that all of her “Rising Star” accolades were all well deserved. Besides exhibiting this darkly rich tone and an ear for melody, her lyrical sensitivity was shown in her feature on Billy Strayhorn’s haunting “Chelsea Bridge”, initially written in 1941 for Duke Ellington to feature great artists like Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges. And last, but definitely not least, her technical “chops” were in evidence on the super-fast Sonny Stitt “Eternal Triangle” that was the last tune of an enormously exciting evening.
I found myself while reveling in the memory of the special dimension of excitement from live performances like last night, hoping that Michael Benedict could somehow find a way to ultimately record this special, unforgettable evening.
Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 50 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland since 2001, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz in a variety of ways.