Brad Shepik trio:
Featuring Brad Shepik, guitar; Gary Versace, Hammond B-3; Tom Rainey, drums
Well, four years later here it is, although there’s been a basic change: organ instead of acoustic bass. Shepik explains: “I met Gary on a gig in New York about four years ago and have been hoping to do a project with him ever since. The opportunity came in the summer of 2005 when our bassist wasn’t available for a summer tour. Gary was able to step right in and just kill it. He is one of the most in-demand musicians I know, for good reason -- he has incredible ears, taste and chops. I feel really lucky to be playing with Gary and Tom in this group.”
Certainly there’s more than luck involved. Songlines has produced a number of records with Shepik since 1993, from the avant collective trio Babkas to his jazz/world quintet The Commuters, and most recently (2005) Lingua Franca, a collective trio with saxophonist Peter Epstein and percussionist Matt Kilmer. And it’s been instructive to follow his career as a composer and performer. With adventurous ears he has immersed himself in music near and far -- rock, jazz, free improv, reggae, 20th century classical, and traditional musics of many kinds (American, Celtic, Balkan, Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Indonesian, West African...). But no matter what the basic materials, Brad always attends to the creative process and its expressive potential, beyond styles and categories: “I don’t think too much about the surface or the style that might be hinted at when composing or playing.... I think more about if something will be fun to play, if it leaves a good amount of room for everyone to interpret and put something of their own into it...[and about] having some kind of conversation with the other players and with the piece itself. To me that’s the essence of what I like about great jazz performances that I hear on records and in person. The surface is just that, I’m more interested in the weave and the unfolding of the music.”
He achieves his goal: purely on the level of musical invention this is technically advanced, elegantly integrated, beautifully detailed jazz improvising. It’s also pretty soulful. This trio has a knack for honing in on the heart of the music with apparently effortless élan -- reflecting both the exhilaration of collective creation and the subtler emotional tints unique to each piece. Places You Go opens with “Témoin” (also on Lingua Franca), a joyful but tricky uptempo number that shifts between 6/8 and 7/8, followed by “Air” in fleet 6/8 and with graceful Renaissance overtones, then ÒReturn,” a slow-spiralling romance from some West of the imagination. “Crossing” features a minor-tinged melody and devilishly staggered rhythms; “Five and Dime” sings in gospel and country/folk accents. “The South” and “Frozen” are distinctive midtempo workouts, characteristically intricate rhythmically and harmonically; they bookend “As Was,” a tender slow waltz with a Celtic feel. “Batur” (referring to the sacred volcano of Bali) fuses an Indonesian scale with fuzz guitar and organ swells. The album closes with “Tides,” a rockout that pays homage both to Ornette and traditional organ trios.
On this record Brad adopts a relatively straight electric guitar sound, often adding a light delay that dusts the notes with a sort of harmonic halo: “I don’t have any hard and fast views about using effects on the guitar, it depends on the music, the group, the band sound, how I feel about it. The only the thing I’ve noticed about effects is that they can sometimes cover up your touch. You hear the effect more than the hands.... I do enjoy the refining and searching that goes on with trying to make it happen with the guitar and the hands (and the pick of course).”
Like all recent Songlines productions the audiophile recording was also mixed to multi-channel, projecting the musical interplay with greater vividness and involvement than stereo.