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Jeff Sipe Trio at Independent Public Alehouse

Mark Sullivan By

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Jeff Sipe Trio Featuring Mike Seal And Taylor Lee
Independent Public Alehouse
Greenville, SC
March 5, 2015

The Jeff Sipe Trio began their set with a surprising cover version of Weather Report's "Black Market." Not a tune that could be easily rearranged for a guitar/bass/drums trio, but they made it sound like it was written for them. Starting with a selection any fusion fan would know is a great way to draw an audience in, and having the chops and the energy to pull it off sealed the deal. It's also one of the few tunes Sipe announced from the stage: the band works without a set list, and some "tunes" are improvised on the spot. They're also sensitive to band dynamics, as evidenced by Sipe's polite request that the PA volume be backed off so the group could control the dynamics from the stage.

The collective technical skill of these musicians is off the charts. But the most striking thing is how musical their playing always is, and how joyful. They just look (and sound) like they're having a great time. They possess the rare gift of being able to play highly technical music while still remaining light on their feet; the dread "muscular" description doesn't apply. One doesn't get the full impact of Sipe's playing from recordings: it's so powerful, yet looks so effortless. He was using a small drum kit (four drums, two cymbals) similar to what a typical bop drummer would have. But when he wanted, he could generate the kind of thunder associated with a sprawling fusion drum kit. Guitarist Mike Seal and bassist Taylor Lee have not been playing long enough to have a reputation equal to Sipe's, but that should only be a matter of time. They are clearly musical equals.

Their self-titled album (Abstract Logix, 2015) was represented by "Trumpets," "Banana Pudding," and "Lightning Man" (plus probably some others that I didn't recognize). Sipe did announce two tunes that are not on the album: "Dream" and "Queststar" (he made a point of saying it was spelled as one word). But one of the highlights came with a high-energy reggae rendition of the "Inspector Gadget" theme song (which was inspired by Edvard Grieg's composition "In the Hall of the Mountain King"—I thought it sounded familiar!). They stretched out a bit on the recorded versions, but not at the expense of melody. However loose the planning, the set flowed easily.

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