Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks
I have a problem, which I share with many of my friends in the jazz world: I worry about young musicians that catch my eye. Having continued success in this genre is about as easy as walking a tightrope over a swimming pool filled with piranha (while you’re on fire), so when one of them disappears from my line of sight for an extended period, it’s hard not to think, “Well, the Bear got another one!” Happily, any fears I’ve had about altoist Sharel Cassity were squashed when she appeared with Greater Nippertown’s Sultans of Bop, Michael Benedict & Bopitude.
You may remember Cassity from her searing opening Sunday set at Jazz @ the Lake in 2010. She had recently released her debut recording Relentless, and some truly nasty musicians (including trombonist Michael Dease, who’s become a mini-industry all his own since then) helped Cassity blow away the crowd. But then – aside from a couple of guest shots on other people’s recordings – I lost sight of her. I shouldn’t have worried, though; nobody this good and this dedicated simply disappears. In addition to playing with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars and the all-female big band Diva, Cassity just released a set of standards called Manhattan Romance on the Japanese label Venus. While standards may not be Cassity’s primary focus – she’s an accomplished composer, with more new stuff waiting to be recorded – her latest recording made her a perfect fit for Bopitude’s unerring musical direction.
What’s more, Cassity’s appearance was more evidence of Benedict’s dedication to expanding the sound of his pet project: Just as bari-sax legend Gary Smulyan gave Bopitude undeniable resonance, Cassity’s alto brought a wonderfully different harmonic (and not a little sass) to the band’s killer front line as the group launched into the opener, “Monk’s Dream.” Cassity caught the opening solo, which went leaping and bounding around Troy’s Daily Grind. (Benedict grabbed the opportunity to play the unconventional space when the show’s original venue, Proctors, fell through.) Cassity gave a quick nod to Monk’s atonality before taking full, undeniable ownership of the house; she had range, chops and some fiendish ideas, and both tenorman Brian Patneaude and trumpeter Chris Pasin had to pump it up to keep up with her.