Bob Sheppard Quartet: Half Moon Bay, CA, August 7, 2011
Douglas Beach House
Half Moon Bay, California
August 7, 2011
Gradually, the Douglas Beach House (aka Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society) filled with people coming in for a jazz treat for that Sunday afternoon. On the lineup was Bob Sheppard on tenor sax, flute, and soprano sax, Larry Koonse on guitar (Bob Brookmeyer, Terry Gibbs, Wayne Marsh, Mel Torme), Jeff D'Angelo (Dane Donohue, Jeff Tyzik, Bill Cunliffe, Bob Hamilton) on stand-up bass and Mark Ferber (Dave Liebman, Fred Hersch, Billy Childs, Bud Shank) playing drums. From the chatter before the show, many had heard Sheppard play as a sideman with such luminaries Billy Childs, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Stevie Wonder, and others, but very few had heard him as the leader of his own band. For this event, Sheppard included some of the tunes from his newest album Close Your Eyes (BFM Jazz, 2010)
It took the quartet well into the second tune, Sheppard's own "Surface Tension" from the featured album, to synch with each other. The moment happened when, blowing hard on his sax, he pulled the rest of his team together so that they fit with him as though tiles in a mosaic. Once that was accomplished the whole afternoon took on a fresh flavor. Koonse was also featured in a part of this tune, and it became clear that although he looks fully relaxed while playing, he has a sense of certainty about what he does on his guitar. Ferber on the drums held back in that he did not come through as a dominant player and yet, given his finesse on his trap set, he was always there keeping the time in the background. "Surface Tension" set the tone for the sharp, exacting endings that Sheppard commands. A solid ending to a piece can make it or break it.
For most of the first set, D'Angelo on the bass remained too far in the background. On his solos and when he was featured, he could have pushed his bass to the forefront. However, on "Phantoms" (Kenny Barron), the fifth tune of the first set, D'Angelo came out on his own and he was up to the task. He opened the piece with a well developed solo, showing variations in texture that he had not executed on any of the previous numbers.
"Charcoal Blues" (Wayne Shorter) featured Sheppard on his soprano sax. It was a more upbeat number than any of the previous ones and that created a sense of excitement, a nice change-up. Koonse's guitar held down the melody until Sheppard smoothly slipped in, when he stepped back to let the saxophonist take over the piece and mold it into a fine number. Ferber's drums took over with a solo that came on strong, punctuating the piece here and there with riffs that clearly showed his unique sensitivity. He kept that going throughout the number and at the same time he was able to give the rest of the musicians enough room to come through as well.
Throughout the concert it was always a give and take exchange between Koonse and Sheppard. Obviously, these two had often played together and sensed what the other was going to do even before it was executed. By the end of the first set, it felt like too many of the numbers had the same signature, a very similar feel, but this was extinguished in the second set, which took on a fresh vibrancy that brought each and every number in that set to life.
In the album's title number "Close Your Eyes" (Bernice Petkere, arranged by Sheppard) that led off the second set; Sheppard pushed his tenor sax far beyond anything he did in the first. This firmly established the overall tone for all of the remaining numbers in that set. He used much more of a range, taking the sax far out on the high notes, which gave a clear feel to the piece. Koonse joined in with him and came through with a quick, direct featured role on this tune. It was easy to see that these two musicians not only loved playing together, but they also respected each other's abilities.
The evening closed with Sheppard's "Bait & Switch," undoubtedly the hottest number of both sets. It allowed each member of the quartet to come throughD' Angelo emerged with a strong run on his bass while Koonse knocked it out on his guitar, pushing the tempo further and further out. In parts, Sheppard used the full range of his tenor sax as he took it out and Ferber's drum solo punctuated the piece with finesse. With this tune, Sheppard escaped the confines of the previous numbers and showed the audience what he and his quartet were all about. As the number finished, the audience rose with a hearty applause that was well deserved.