The landscape of serious women guitarists has been too long and too painfully slow in developing. The period-interesting but ultimately disposable efforts of such as Fanny, The Runaways, Lita Ford, etc., all populating the rock idiom (which has been much kinder to such and also vastly less demanding) have only served to underscore this. Then there manifested an Emily Remler here and there in jazz, an April Lawton in rock, but not a whole lot of technically adept female strummers and pluckers overall, the gentler gender mostly represented in three-chord wonders and pederastic centerfold stagecandy gimmicks. Ah, but recent times have seen the Mimi Foxes, the Joanne Shaw Taylors, the Ana Popovics, and an increasing side-door influx of females who have taken on the ungodly long hours in woodshedding so as to grab that highest rung and pull themselves over the top. Sheryl Bailey now joins the rising tide in a release that harkens back to a time when what Grant Green and others had laid down was being picked up in the 60s and 70s as more than a few reflected the transit of the olden time into coming decades.
Thus, thank all the gods and goddess in their various heavens that For All Those Living evinces the influence of a presently underlauded bopster, the marvelous Hank Mobley, whom this guitarist acknowledges as the inspiration for her own soul and swing. If you're familiar with the late gent, then, really, I need say no more, but, hell, there are many who aren't, so I'll note that Mobley could be as inventive, abstract, and striking—but also as smooth and melody-oriented—as any of his compeers of the era, antecedents included. Bailey's Moblin is dedicated to the sax great, but as early as the second cut, For All Those Living, she demonstrates, within an evolving ballad context, just how subtly her instrumental voice runs, transmogrifying context and coloration a number of times, layering meaning and gesture beneath melodic variations.
Pat Martino is cited by esteemed critic Bill Milkowski as a kindred reference, and the notation is on the money. Like Martino, Bailey is one of those players who makes a writer afraid to use the adjective phrase 'straight ahead' because as soon as he pens it, she's leaping ahead of the format—not sharply, but cleverly, restrainedly, with a twist of perception and elucidation that freezes the reviewer's hand as it descends…just before she returns to home base. Cool stuff. The quartet format also suits her well, as Jim Ridl never forces what in other hands would be the piano's stiffer tones, laying back in elegant backdrops until his solos come up, counterpointing Bailey's work adroitly without ever aping voice or affects.
Here's the real surprise, though: not only is Sheryl Bailey masterful in her approach and execution, not only does she lead a band with aplomb, not only does she capture the prime of a crucial period when jazz guitar was posing itself as a completely formidable axe alongside all the horns, but she wrote every single song on For All Those Living. Trust me, from the angularities of Masa's Bag to the Chicago nightlife of 29-11, were I to lie and tell you that each cut originally appeared on a classic LP, you'd have no reason whatsoever to disbelieve. That, I think, could hardly be bettered as proof that this guitarist is firmly ensconced in her milieu, completely confident, and adding to a catalogue that is still woefully short. Now it only remains for you to find that out.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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