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Bob Sheppard: The Fine Line

Roger Farbey By

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Ironically, probably the only reason that Bob Sheppard isn't a household name (other than in jazz households) is because he's such an in-demand sideman. Splitting his time between Los Angeles, and New York he also teaches jazz at The University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. But he's worked, amongst many others, with such jazz luminaries as Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Peter Erskine and from the popular music world, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder. This also explains why recordings under his own name are so relatively infrequent. His previous album, Close Your Eyes (Challenge, 2011) featuring, amongst others, drummer Antonio Sanchez, was highly lauded and rightly so.

The Fine Line came about through Sheppard's chance meeting with Dutch bassist Jasper Somsen at the 2013 Jazzahead Network Event in Bremen, Germany. The two hit it off immediately and resolved to work together. However, due to their mutually busy schedules it took almost two years before they were able to share a stage in The Netherlands for a full week of concerts, followed by masterclasses and radio appearances. Shortly afterwards, Anne de Jong, General Director of Challenge Records offered Somsen the opportunity to work on several projects, and happily this album was one of them. To complete the line-up Sheppard shrewdly recruited keyboardist John Beasley, who appeared on Sheppard's previous album, plus virtuoso drummer Kendrick Scott.

Sheppard's fast-paced opener, "Edge Of Trouble," sees the sax maestro establishing a serpentine hook on soprano saxophone. There's also a florid solo from guest vibraphonist Simon Moullier, who later makes essential contributions to "Maria's Tango" and "Joegenic." All the while Scott propels the piece along with his crackling drums. "Run Amok" with Sheppard on tenor, has a Brecker Brothers feel courtesy of Benjamin Shepherd on electric bass and some Miles-ian harmon-muted trumpet from Mike Cottone.

Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" is given a sumptuous treatment by Sheppard and the Rodgers, and Hart standard "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" sees Sheppard soloing on soaring soprano. One oddity, rarely heard in a jazz context, but nonetheless a winning version here, is Ralph Rainger's "Thanks For The Memory," which became Bob Hope's signature tune on which Sheppard imparts some evocatively glissando-rich slinky tenor with Somsen delivering a fluid pizzicato bass solo. Sheppard's languid Latine-esque title track benefits from some subtly dulcet wordless vocals from Maria Puga Lareo.

With The Fine Line Sheppard has succeeded once more in producing an album populated by vibrant, memorable tunes that invite constant and frequent replays.

Track Listing: Edge of Trouble; Run Amok; The Fine Line; People Make The World Go 'Round; I Didn't Know What Time It Was; Maria's Tango; Above & Beyond; Joegenic; Thanks For The Memory; A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing.

Personnel: Bob Sheppard: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, alto flute; John Beasley: piano; Jasper Somsen: double bass; Kendrick Scott: drums. Plus guests: Mike Cottone (2): trumpet; Simon Moullier (1,6,8): vibraphone; Maria Puga Lareo (3): vocals; Benjamin Shepherd (2,4): electric bass; Aaron Safarty (3,6): shaker.

Title: The Fine Line | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Challenge Records

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