Right out of the gate it’s shades of Steps Ahead in the tight Mike Mainieri-Michael Brecker type unisons between Mark Sherman’s vibes and Chase Baird’s potent tenor sax on “Life Cycle,” title track of Venture’s auspicious debut. As the piece progresses, Mike Clark fuels the proceedings with his typically hip, syncopated beats while Felix Pastorius bubbles underneath in the subharmonic zone. Baird’s urgent solo here serves notice that the 30-year-old Salt Lake City-bred saxophonist has indeed arrived while his rapid-fire call-and-response exchanges with Sherman bring the piece to a pulse-quickening crescendo. Their fierce, take-no-prisoners approach instantly marks this band as a new force to be reckoned with on the scene.
Throughout Life Cycle, the band’s principal songwriter deals in lots of harmonic movement and intricate heads. “My writing has become a big part of my voice,” says Sherman, who doubles on piano and vibes here. “I’m not a big band arranger or genius orchestrator, but I can write decent tunes, these vehicles for people to put their voice on.”
Sherman has a nice way with ballads too, as evidenced by his mellow “The Chant,” which features a virtuosic solo from the son of bass immortal Jaco Pastorius along with another bold solo from tenor titan Baird and a cascading piano solo from the composer. Sherman switches back to vibes for his lovely jazz waltz “Gently,” which is underscored by Clark’s supple, highly interactive touch with brushes. “Tipping the Scale” is 5:27 of sheer burn, fueled by Clark’s boppish instincts, sizzling ride cymbal pulse and slick hi hat work in tandem with Pastorius’ insistent walking. Both saxophonist Baird and vibraphonist Sherman deliver heroic solos here while they turn the former Headhunters drummer loose at the 4-minute mark to do his thing.
Baird’s luminous “Do You Remember the Beginning” showcases the tenorist’s Brecker-like abandon on the horn. “Love’s Touch” is another buoyantly swinging jazz waltz fueled by Clark’s brushwork while Sherman’s uptempo swinger “Charge Denied” is a post-bop tour de force.
Clark’s “Loft Funk,” a tune he co-wrote with saxophonist Jed Levy and which previously appeared on the drummer’s 2010 album, Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 1, has Pastorius dancing around the drummer’s signature beat with a push-pull chemistry reminiscent of Clark’s famous hookup with bassist Paul Jackson during their glory days together with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. Felix and Mike also deliver show-stopping solos on this turbocharged bit of linear funk. Think “Actual Proof” meets “Freedom Jazz Dance.”
“From out first rehearsal I thought, ‘This has some real possibilities,’ says veteran Clark of his latest Venture. “Felix was really super interactive and really listening and I liked Chase straight out because he’s one of those shredder young guys who can read anything and play anything. And Mark is hearing all these different voicings and always opening the band up. From our first gig it was apparent that there’s definitely some different shit going on here. And it’s been a blast ever since.”
“Bottom line, these cats are all bad-asses,” adds Sherman. “It’s a high-powered post-bop fusion band and everybody’s at the top of their game. And from the minute that we start playing it’s always intense and killing. It’s not like we have to slowly get into it or even rehearse or anything. We just get up and do it.”
Full of energy and swagger and marked by a killer instinct in the solo department, Life Cycle marks the birth of a band that is primed to thrill. — Bill Milkowski
released May 18, 2018
MARK SHERMAN - VIBRAPHONE/PIANO
MIKE CLARK -DRUMS
FELIX PASTORIUS - BASS
CHASE BAIRD - SAXOPHONE
RECORDED BY PAUL WICKLIFFE
SKYLINE PRO STUDIOS
PHOTOS - CHRIS DRUKKER