By Hrayr Attarian
Sharel Cassity Fearless
Sharel Cassity – Saxophones
Richard Johnson – Piano
Alex Claffy – Double bass
Mark Whitfield Jr. – Drums
Saxophonist and composer Sharel Cassity is a dynamic and versatile performer and bandleader. She has led small combos as well as the large fusion orchestra, Elektra, and has backed musicians of various genres. On her fifth release as a leader, the stimulating Fearless, she demonstrates a winning mélange of passion, poise and intelligence.
Made up entirely of her originals, the album opens with the effervescent and mellifluous “Whimsy” that, despite its name, is laced with a wistful undercurrent. Cassity states and embellishes the main theme with elegance and panache. Her muscular lines flow in graceful circles, setting the stage for pianist Richard Johnson’s cascading chords and resonant tones. Drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. ushers in the conclusion with his spontaneous, percolating beats.
The title track, penned after Cassity recovered from a protracted illness, has a celebratory tone and a dramatic ambience. Johnson’s hesitant chords build a captivatingly crystalline melody that is lithe and moving. Cassity’s own turn in the spotlight is marked by fiery and emotive phrases—tempered with a sharp wit and delivered with brilliance.
Inspired by her time in Qatar, Cassity wrote the unique “Road to Dukhan,” one of the many highlights of this uniformly superb recording. Starting off with bassist Alexa Claffy’s percussive refrains, the tune is rich with Middle Eastern motifs. Johnson’s lyrical pianism expands with a cinematic sense, creating a fantastical mood. Cassity’s saxophone sashays in sensual serpentine paths, in and out of her bandmates percolating vamps.
The thrilling “Last Minute” makes for an explosive and satisfying finale. Johnson improvises with breathtaking agility while Cassity lets loose an eloquent and red-hot solo that showcases her indisputable virtuosity. After Whitfield’s thunderous beats, the quartet brings the piece to a spectacular conclusion.
On Fearless, Cassity demonstrates that her artistic ardor remains intact—yet her vision has matured. Her work is sophisticated yet raw, hence, soulful and simultaneously cerebral. Chicagoans are fortunate that Cassity made the move from New York City to this area three years ago—contributing her talents to the city’s creative music scene and beyond.