Jeff Sherman - "Above and Beyond" (Relentless Pursuit Music 2002, RD 4133)
Greg Sherman - "Zutique" (Relentless Pursuit Music 2000, RD 4131)
From Aural Innovations #21 (October 2002)
Brothers Jeff and Greg Sherman are both members of the recently reformed instrumental progressive rock group Glass (Click Here for an interview with them). As well as working on a new group album, both have released solo efforts that encompass their wide interest in different types of music.
On his album Above and Beyond, Jeff explores the possibilities of electronic music, what he calls "progressive ambience". From symphonic, to lushly ambient, to minimalist composition, to complex sound collage, Above and Beyond takes the listening on a far-reaching journey.
The album begins with its shortest piece, the classically influenced Above, and follows with another short piece, the companion Beyond, an ambient exploration that lies just on the edge of the natural world, with gentle bell-like sounds, brushing percussion and swirling textures floating beneath. Miles, Monk, and Mom seems to list its influences in its title, though it reminded me more of what Hans Rodelius was doing in the mid-80's when he was recording for EG. A lovely, simple piano melody plays over a synthesized horn melody; wistful and beautiful, it's one of my favorite pieces on the album.
Heaven's Reply takes its cue from the German electronic explorers of the 70's, but rather than lapsing into something constructed around repetitive sequences, it builds spacey tones over a structure of complicated patterns before it dissolves into deep space textures reminiscent of late 70's Ash Ra, with loose electronic percussion and exploratory piano notes thrown in. It all works to create a certain kind of magic realm of the senses, dream-like and haunting. Jeff uses a fascinating sound on this piece that is something of a cross between some kind of plucked instrument and maybe an African drum, although he creates it electronically.
I mention it because it features prominently in the next track, Big Sur, 9-14-00. Another sensory piece, this one is highly impressionistic. Jeff doesn't take the easy way out, throwing in recorded sound effects. Like Claude Debussy, he uses the music itself to paint sonic images, where waves crash across an open beach, wind rustles in trees, and seagulls cry overhead. That sound I mentioned previously seems to me, to create on this track, the impression of sunlight sparkling on the waves. This is not gentle new age music, however. Complex and multi-layered, this is music that vitalizes rather than anaesthetizes.
The final piece is the epic, half-hour long sound collage, Autasia Part 1. Opening with deep organ notes and a sweeping, cosmically majestic introduction, it segues effortlessly, after about 9 minutes, into a lengthy collage of voices, natural sounds, and segments of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, set to an urgent piano run and tapping percussion. The voice samples in this part occasionally overwhelm the music a little, and some of them have too much hiss in them, which becomes quite obvious as it cuts in and out with the beginning and end of some samples, but it does tend to create a disorienting effect that can snap the listener out of complacency. As the piano fades, numerous experimental electronic textures whirl and weave throughout the samples till the last 5 minutes of the piece, where it morphs into a crazy percussive jam with horns dancing around it, sounding like something Sun Ra might have done back in the late 60's!
The many varied styles and textures create a challenging tapestry of sound for the listener to explore its endless threads.
In sharp contrast to this is the simplicity of Greg Sherman's Zutique. Recorded after Greg took a long break from the music world, it was his first foray back into composing before taking on the creation of new prog rock tunes for the next Glass album. The album is entirely solo piano, so may or may not appeal to prog and space rock fans. But it's a worthy listen. If you like the music of Liz Story, or perhaps, to a lesser extent, George Winston (like Story, Greg has a stronger grasp of melody than Winston), then you will likely enjoy Zutique.
Like many moments on his brother's solo effort, Greg takes an impressionistic approach to composing. But rather than creating impressions of scenes, he takes a certain feeling associated with a scene or person, and creates an impression of that feeling through his music. This isn't piano noodling, by any stretch. Greg carefully crafts each composition, with structure and melody to entice the listener actively rather than passively, drawing him or her into the mood of the piece. There are no notes thrown in randomly. From the hopeful Yodz' Dharma to the rambling and sunny The Road Home, to the wistful and longing Rebecca's Garden, to the lazy, reflective sunset beauty of North Beach Revisted, Zutique casts its magic spell on the listener.
Both of these recordings lend insight into the multi-faceted talents of these two musicians, and give clues as to how it all comes together in Glass.
More info on Jeff Sherman and Above and Beyond can be found at: http://www.rpursuit.com/JeffSherman/Default.htm
More info on Greg Sherman and Zutique can be found at: http://www.rpursuit.com/yodz/Index.asp
Samples from both albums are available for download.
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald