Avery Sharpe champions family values in music
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., January 22, 2002) – “Family Values” are perhaps the last thing you’d expect to be addressed by a jazz musician. Usually family values are the territory of conservative politicians spouting euphemisms to decry governmental policies they view as promoting liberal permissiveness or immoral behavior.

But for the last few years, composer/bassist Avery Sharpe has been trying to reclaim family values, taking them out of the political arena and bringing them into the artistic arena in a series of recordings under the rubric of Extended Family, the latest of which is subtitled Family Values.

“I’m not affiliated politically or religiously, and it’s unfortunate that the words have taken on a different kind of meaning,” said Sharpe in a phone interview from Seattle, where he was touring with pianist McCoy Tyner. “At one recording session one of the musicians, when he saw the charts said ‘Family Values,’ he said, ‘Whose family values?’

“I said ‘My family values. The values that were passed down from my parents to me. That’s my definition of it.”

Sharpe will be performing music from his Extended Family repertoire tonight at the Iron Horse in Northampton at 7. He will be accompanied by Kyle Aho on piano, Alvin Terry on drums, and the four-member Extended Family Voices choir.

While Sharpe is clear about what he means by family values – song titles on Family Values include “Always Expect the Best from Yourself,” “Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help,” “I Am My Brother’s Keeper,” “A Father’s Pride,” “Parental Love” and “We’re All in This” -- it’s not always clear how this gets translated into composed and improvisational instrumental music.

Sharpe, who grew up in Springfield and who still calls the Pioneer Valley home, explains, “When a visual artist has a vision, he sees a picture. As a composer, I think of a particular situation and I hear the music. My head is like a radio that’s always on. I’m always hearing music to everything. I have a particular thought or idea, I hear the music for it.”

As it comes out on Family Values, the music ranges from vocal gospel music to instrumental r&b, funk-laced jazz, contemporary chamber music and other influences. While some of the music tends toward the experimental – Sharpe has worked with such cutting-edge legends as Art Blakey, Archie Shepp, Yusef Lateef and Tyner, whom he has been accompanying for more than 20 years – there is also an accessible streak running through his most difficult pieces.

“I’m a record company’s nightmare -- that’s why I do my own records,” said Sharpe, an alumnus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “I’m too eclectic and diverse for a record label. I always believed there’s an audience that can handle a record with several different approaches to it, and not have to hear only ballads or a particular style for one record.”

The Berkshires’ own Vikki True has a brand-new CD out, and it’s about time. Actually, the title is ’bout Time (MorningGlory Moon), and the recording is a straight-ahead jazz vocal trio album featuring True singing a dozen jazz and pop standards accompanied by bassist Richard Downs and pianist Peter Schneider.

The minimalist arrangements highlight the players and the songs themselves. This works to great effect on “Don’t You Feel My Leg,” in which True’s vocals and Downs’s bass vie for the upper hand in mischief. Her experimental version of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” make a tried-and-true standard new again. “Lullaby of Birdland” features Downs on trumpet, and True updates the mostly standard repertoire with a version of Rickie Lee Jones’s “Danny’s All Star Joint.”

With songs like “Green Dolphin Street,” “Prelude to a Kiss” and Abby Lincoln’s “Throw It Away,” this is as much a serious jazz album as a showcase for True’s versatile vocals. Catch True and her trio at the Castle Street Café tonight.

Boston Music Award nominee Deb Talan appears tonight in the “Ladies of Red” series at Red in Pittsfield. Talan’s Something Burning garnered her Acoustic Guitar magazine’s Homegrown CD award last year. Her song “Tell Your Story Walking” was selected as a winner of the “Songs Inspired by Literature Songwriing Competition,” and will appear on a nationally-released CD in March alongside songs by Bruce Springsteen, Aimee Mann, Emmylou Harris and Grace Slick. Talan’s song “Thinking Amelia” appeared in an episode of the “Dawson’s Creek” TV program. Northampton singer-songwriter Catherine Orland, a Mount Holyoke College alumnus, warms up the crowd for Talan at 9.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on Jan. 25, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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