Jan 21, 2020
Jazz at Lincoln Center has spent much of the past three years aggresively attempting to expand their reach in the world of jazz. While it is already the home of one of the finest collection of musicians on the planet, via it’s label Blue Engine Records there have been new studio and live recordings as well as archival recordings from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s performance history that date back to 1987 and are part of the R. Theodore Ammon Archives and Music Library.
One of the most exciting performances from a few years back has finally been released, with the appearance of Sherman Irby’s Inferno. The talented alto sax player-composer-arranger had the premiere of his ballet score back in 2012, with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis tackling his swinging, impressionistic piece. Coming from a long interest in Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Irby meticulously crafted a score that takes the listener into the Nine Circles of Hell and back. Rather than a dissonant, scarified piece of music, Irby succeeds by using the best the JLCO has to offer, always swinging, always tackling its heady subject matter with a wink and a nod.
Sherman Irby has been a mainstay of the JLCO off and on for the past twenty-five years. When not holding down the alto sax chair there, he has been a sideman for the likes of Elvin Jones, Roy Hargrove and Marcus Roberts. As a bandleader, he has a half dozen releases under his own name. The most recent release, with his band Momentum (trombonist Vincent Gardner, pianist Eric Reed, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Willie Jones III) was Cerulean Canvas, on his Black Warrior label.
I spoke with Sherman about the making of Inferno for Podcast 721, and he shared insights into the scoring, structuring and performance of his first ballet score. Musical selections from Inferno include the piece’s overture, “Lost”, which features Joe Temperley on baritone saxophone; and one of the six movements, “The City of Dis”, featuring solos by Walter Blanding (soprano saxophone and oboe), and Ted Nash (flute). From Irby’s tenure with Roy Hargrove comes “Peri” a track form the strings album, Moment to Moment.