Album of the Week: Why Deny, The Marty Sheller Ensemble

by chip on June 20, 2008

Why Deny
Marty Sheller
PVR Records, LLC

Many musicians spend the bulk of their career supporting other artists, making their living outside the realm of the spotlight. While they may not garner a massive star powered reputation, they often cement a larger place in history through their extensive work. Composers and arrangers shape an artist’s sound and contribute important songs; a goo composer also finds their songs being recorded by other artists within the style. Performers also become a major piece of any bandleader’s sound, but the freedoms inherent in their independent status allow them to contribute their talents to a wide variety of projects. In the long run, artists working outside the spotlight may miss some of the benefits of fame, but they enjoy a more expansive collection of experiences and a greater sense of artistic development. When they do apply their years of rich artistic exploration to a solo project, the product usually garners memorable results. Composer and arranger Marty Sheller shares the culmination of a comprehensive Latin Jazz career on Why Deny, a strong recording with an intelligent and mature sound.

Rich Compositions and Inspiring Performances
Sheller contributes many original compositions to the album, presenting his creative voice as the primary focus. A series of assertive band hits contrast a loose jazz-tinged son montuno groove on “The Route 40 Flyers,” leading into a richly harmonized melody. Tenor saxophonist Bob Franceschini drives creative lines with his edgy tone, moving through a sea of interesting background lines. Trumpet player Joe Magnarelli portrays a wide range of perspective on his improvisation, followed by an impassioned solo from alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli. Pianist Oscar Hernandez establishes a stuttering vamp that leads into an ingenious combination of a Venezuelan joropo, a Cuban cha cha cha, a jazz waltz, and a funk backbeat on “El Pavo,” which opens into a spacious melody. Magnarelli enthusiastically explores the unique feel with an immediate explosion of ideas, while Franceschini carefully develops rhythmic phrases into an astounding display of virtuosity. Hernandez follows the melody with a return to the original vamp, allowing drummer Vince Cherico to build an intriguing statement that combines strong coloristic shading and an insightful compositional sensibility. Cherico and bassist Ruben Rodriguez create a sly and sauntering groove over a slow 6/8 feel on “Love In A Mist,” leading into a relaxed melody. Porcelli builds his improvisation into a frenzy with an aggressive forward motion while trumpet player Chris Rogers indulges the subdued context, developing his solo over a long period. Hernandez boldly creates a lush statement behind remnants of the melody, spinning ideas creatively against changing textures. Sheller provides musically deep compositions here, held together by rich arrangements; the musical settings that he creates inspire enthusiastic performances.

Powerful Arranging Skills
Sheller varies the repertoire by including several pieces from other musicians, and the songs grow into new masterpieces through Sheller’s strong arranging skills. Wayne Shorter’s “Mahjong” receives an inventive reconstruction, inheriting an aggressive son montuno foundation. As trombonist Sam Burtis tears into a powerful idea, the rhythm section transitions into 6/8, adding variety to his exciting statement. Franceschini indulges the changing rhythmic feel with quick lines and rhythmic ingenuity until an interlude introduces a smart statement from Cherico. Lush chordal patches introduce the standard “Sweet & Lovely,” leading into an emotionally charged reading of the melody by Porcelli. The rhythm section maintains a steady bolero as Porcelli demonstrates the unending depth of his melodic inventiveness. Sheller’s arranging skills truly shine here as a series of band parts push the rhythm section into a combination of swing and son montuno that instigates a powerful climax in Porcelli’s solo. A bebop tinged melody twists over a blues enhanced with modern harmonic variations on Porcelli’s “Why Deny.” Porcelli attacks his improvisation quickly with a fearless abandon, constantly turning ideas into new variations throughout a long and exhilarating section. Hernandez cleverly integrates traditional blues ideas and modern harmonic concepts throughout his statement, followed by huge band hits, which provide space for Cherico’s improvisational power. Sheller demonstrates his ability to find the beauty in other musicians’ work and expose it with grace and style.

A Future In The Spotlight
Sheller displays the results of decades of musical experience and artistic refinement on Why Deny, spinning a rich tapestry of jazz colors with Latin underpinnings. The pieces here differ from the music most closely associated with Sheller. His work with Mongo Santamaria, as well as many other Fania artists, found a catchy crossroad between commercial funk and Latin Jazz. His compositions and arrangements here emanate a mature and reflective quality; Sheller emphasizes the rich harmonies of jazz and integrates Latin rhythms as a supporting feature. He smartly chose a sympathetic group of musicians to interpret his music; they walk confidently through both worlds and assert their personalities strongly. The soloists thrive on the thick harmonic structures and complex writing; they deliver inspiring performances throughout the album. The rhythm section plays at a high level that neither defines Latin genres nor falls into jazz big band conventions. They combine the most important pieces of both styles instead, resulting in a pure hybrid that references the genres authentically. The musical insight and artistic wisdom that Sheller developed during his years in a supporting role can be heard strongly on Why Deny, leaving the Latin Jazz world with an avid enthusiasm for the outstanding music coming from his future in the spotlight.

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