BASSIST/COMPOSER LEO SHERMAN LEADS STELLAR QUINTET ON HIS EVOCATIVE DEBUT ALBUM TONEWHEEL
Available October 25th, 2019 on Outside in Music
The term Tonewheel can mean a number of things, as bassist/composer Leo Sherman explains in the liner notes to his stirring debut album of that name. “It’s the mechanical wheel inside of an organ that allows it to sound,” Sherman writes. “It’s a name for the color wheel,” he adds, “and it’s also an organizational model for emotions.” Joining forces with saxophonist Paul Jones, guitarist Alex Goodman, pianist Ben Winkelman and drummer Dan Pugach, Sherman followed his muse and emerged with a document of mostly original compositions, Tonewheel, that brings it all into vivid relief.
That Sherman is here at all to make music is not to be taken for granted: he and his mother nearly died of sepsis during childbirth in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1987. As Soviet Jews, they were at the mercy of nationalist and antisemitic hospital staff, an ordeal that convinced the family to flee Russia for good, when Leo was two. Their new surroundings in Baltimore were far from a paradise, but Sherman got an education and became fluent in Spanish (his third language), which he speaks daily in his current neighborhood of Hamilton Heights, Harlem. His music-making is informed by a certain international perspective that he gained from his earliest days. Fittingly, the quintet on Tonewheel has an international makeup: Sherman originally from Russia, Goodman from Canada, Winkelman from Australia, Pugach from Israel and Jones the only American-born member.
As is common among children of immigrants, Sherman had to overcome strong opposition from his parents when it came to pursuing music professionally. But he had the clarity of conviction to know that studying international relations at George Washington University wasn’t for him. He dropped out after a year to focus on his real goal: hitting the DC jazz scene and gaining authority in as many settings as he could. Then he headed north to William Paterson University, and ultimately to a master’s degree at Manhattan School of Music. Since becoming a New Yorker he’s played with James Weidman, Gene Bertoncini, Johnny O’Neal, Valerie Ponomarev, Victor Jones and the Wolff & Clark Expedition (led by Michael Wolff and Mike Clark), among others, all while honing his conception as a bandleader.
On Tonewheel we hear the fruits of those labors, in a tapestry of music that brims with orchestrational detail and melodic expression. The soaring and intricate “In Flight,” the ballad “Looking Back Again,” the two piano trio pieces “Nocturne” and “Holdover” and the lyrical finale “Tonewheel” all tie back to the composer’s life experience in some way, as Sherman makes plain in his liner notes. “The Eclipse,” “Spice Planet,” “Chagall” and the one non-original, “Aquí Me Quedo” by the murdered Chilean dissident Victor Jara, reflect some aspect of Sherman’s engagement with the wider world. The music presents challenges, not least of all for the bassist, who stays on top of every intricate part, bowed and pizzicato, getting a great sound on his solos and steering the music with agility and groove. Every bandmate rises to the occasion and more, as Sherman was confident would happen.
One key thing Sherman has taken away from the experience of overcoming obstacles, in music and life, is to be keenly aware of other people’s obstacles: “Growing up where I did in Baltimore, growing up with pretty much nothing, you start to notice how other people around you are going through the same thing, struggling and pulling themselves up, again and again. I wanted Tonewheel on some level to be about that.” Given that jazz is a music significantly based on stories, Tonewheel provides the ideal platform for Sherman’s own story and that of others, establishing his unique place within jazz’s rich legacy.
released October 25, 2019
Tenor Saxophone: Paul Jones
Guitar: Alex Goodman
Piano: Ben Winkelman
Bass: Leo Sherman
Drums: Dan Pugach
Recorded on February 1st, 2019 at Bunker Studios
400 S 2nd St, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Recorded by John Davis
Mixed and mastered by Johannes Felscher
Artwork by Nicholas Kay
Produced by Leo Sherman