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Brad Shepik is a very good guitarist, but there are a lot of other people out there who can match that description. He has assembled a nice trio here featuring Gary Versace's canny Hammond B-3 work and the nifty drumming of Tom Rainey, but there are a lot of guitar trios fighting for space in the jazz world. So what makes this album special?
One reason is the fact that Shepik seems pretty comfortable in a whole lot of different genres. Opener "Témoin" sounds like early-1970s fusion jazz, right after the whole "we must rock harder than rockers" phase, but before the "we must lull everyone to sleep with our mellow goodness" period. It cooks, but not at the expense of group interplay; Shepik is still playing notes on his solos instead of power chords, and Rainey is reined in enough so that he can concentrate on driving the song. Kudos to Versace for providing a whole lot of support without getting all antsy for attention, and more kudos for having a great ELP sound but playing quietly.
They revisit this sound two-three more times here (especially on the Tony Williams Lifetime-sounding "Tides"), but that's not the only trick up their sleeves. "Air" rides a circular structure, sounding like classical folk music gone downtown until Versache's forward-thinking solo shifts the piece into post bop mode. "Five and Dime" is glacially cool blues; "As Was" sounds all Metheny-esque, but turns out to be more of a tribute than a ripoff; and "Crossing" is funkier than you think it's going to be. On "Return," they revisit the whole alt.country post-rock sound that Shepik does so well as part of J.A. Granelli's band Mr. Lucky. And they pretty much hit every single one of these genres during "The South."
But being conversant with a lot of different styles isn't the best thing about this trio. The real reason this album stands out has to do with Shepik's compositions. They are not complicated songs, but they have twists and turns and tricks galore. And there is a lot of beauty here as wellthe melody of "Frozen" is pretty indelible, and all the tweaks and inversions that Shepik and Versace throw at it just serve to engrave it even further into the memory. And the spooky-lovely "Batur" begins with a pointillist section that is then slowed and repeated as a mini-fugue; this theme survives intact when Rainey decides to make the piece rock a little and Shepik and Versace start to chase each other all over the track.
This doesn't really expand the jazz canon or anything, but it sure sounds beautiful and tough. More of this please, Mr. Shepik; we need it badly.
Track Listing: Temoin; Air; Return; Crossing; Five and Dime; The South; As Was; Frozen; Batur; Tides.
Personnel: Brad Shepik: guitar; Gary Versace: Hammond B-3 organ; Tom Rainey: drums.