Scott Yanow, Jazz Artistry Now

During the past decade, Sharel Cassity has built up a strong reputation as an excellent alto and soprano-saxophonist who plays forward-looking modern jazz. Evolve is a bit of a change for her.

Born in Iowa City, Sharel Cassity grew up in Yukon, Oklahoma. She moved to New York in 2000 (relocating to Chicago in 2017) and graduated from Julliard with a Masters in Jazz Performance in 2007.

Since then she has worked with Diva, the James Argue Secret Society Big Band, the Roy Hargrove Big Band and Rufus Reid, and recorded with Diva, trombonist Michael Dease, the Jason Hainsworth Jazz Orchestra, the Fat Cat Big Band, the Gregorio Uribe Big Band, Joe Chambers’ Moving Pictures Orchestra, pianists Adam Birnbaum and Noah Haidu, and drummer Winard Harper, in addition to leading three albums of her own.

None of that prior experience prepares one to hear the second selection of Evolve, a version of Alicia Keys’ r&b song “New Day” that features poppish singing from Christie Dashiell over funky rhythms. But fortunately, most of the remainder of Evolve is more creative and jazz-oriented.

Not wanting to exclusively play acoustic straight-ahead jazz the rest of her life, Sharel Cassity took a detour for this project. She formed a new group, Elektra, that is comprised of either Ingrid JensenMarcus Printup and Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, guitarist Mark Whitfield, keyboardist Miki HayamaLinda Oh on electric bass, and drummer Johnathan Barber. “All Is Full Of Love” has Richard Johnson added on keyboards and Riza Printup on harp while Lucianna Padmore plays drums on two songs.

Emphasizing funky grooves rather than swing, and utilizing an electronic rhythm section, Ms. Cassityopened her music to the influences of r&b, soul music, pop and rock. Her group performs originals and songs drawn from pop music (including Bjork’s “All Is Full Of Love” and Loudon Wainwright’s “The Here We Now”), generally succeeding at uplifting the material and transforming it into an accessible form of creative jazz.

The opener, “Evolve,” gives the ensemble an opportunity to stretch out on what is essentially an extended hard bop blues with an added section.

After “New Day” takes the CD in a different direction, Ms. Cassity’s soprano is featured on a soulful ballad version of “All Is Full Of Love.”

A short spoken word interlude leads to “Be The Change” which has some passionate alto playing and excellent solos from Printup and Whitfield over the electronic background. Christie Dashiell returns for “Wishing Star,” a performance that includes some very fluent soprano playing.

Ms. Cassity’s alto is heard sailing over the attractive groove of “The Here The Now” and she leads the group through the theme on the ballad waltz “Echoes Of Home.” Evolve concludes with some surprisingly free playing over a bass vamp on “Outlier.”

Evolve has a fair number of worthy trumpet solos scattered throughout the songs along with occasional spots for guitarist Whitfield.

Sharel Cassity sounds quite comfortable playing in this setting and her alto and soprano solos are inventive within the genre.

Whether Sharel Cassity will continue in this vein or shift courses again is not known. But Evolve grows in interest with each listen and it succeeds at being accessible.

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