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Music Review: Brad Shepik Trio – Places You Go

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Many years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a guy who was just as much into music as I was. This of course didn't always make for productive use of time as we'd spend hours and hours yakking about this, that, or the other group. One of the books he loaned me (and for some reason, I've never purchased) was Pete Frame's Complete Rock Family Trees. Dear me, what a resource for discovery. Want to know all of the permutations of Fleetwood Mac and related bands both before and after the Peter Green era? With the data laid out visually, it can be quite amazing to navigate along the tendrils of even moderately famous groups.

That cross-pollination of musicians in the rock world brings to mind the parallel phenomenon in the New York City "downtown" jazz scene. There are quite a large number of recordings in my collection related to musicians such as Paul Motian, John Zorn, Dave Douglas, Bill Frisell, and Joey Baron.

Right in the middle of those interlocked downtown jazz branches is guitarist Brad Shepik. Having played with the likes of the Dave Douglas Tiny Bell Trio and Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band, as well as groups like Babkas and Pachora, it's obvious that Shepik has a wide-ranging musical history to draw from. From slightly twisted takes on standards to avant modernizations of Middle Eastern and Eastern European musics, Shepik has not followed the usual path of a jazz guitarist.

But what of the Brad Shepik Trio? Does a 'traditional' guitar/organ/drums lineup make for traditional music? No, along with Tom Rainey on drums and Gary Versace on organ, Shepik and his clean-toned guitar take familiar instrumentation "out" in much the same way as his past involvements.

While listeners searching for music from the organ trio's past will not be disappointed — particularly on the bluesy "Five and Dime" and the pensive balladry of "Return" — the more adventurous will be be rewarded with a fine blend of idea and execution.

"Air" starts off with a series of cyclical arpeggios that are used as raw material for some great group interplay. The elongated melody that opens "Batur" morphs into an ostinato over which increasingly passionate improvisations are build. "Frozen" has Shepik switching between fast chord melodies, unison runs with Versace and some good 'ole blowing over changes. Some of this record's charm lies in the subtle way improvisations are constructed. "Crossing" begins with Shepik and Versace playing together, but then slowly moving apart before turns are taken in both soloing and comping roles. As the intensity increases, Tom Rainey's sensitive drum work manages to push the others forward while leaving just enough space.

Places You Go comes to a close with the wide open and burning "Tides." First a soundscape and then a vehicle for traded choruses, Shepik's group shows that it's got both muscle and finesse. If you listen closely, there's a lot of Shepik's musical history in there. And if you're smart, it's the kind of history you might want to investigate.

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About Mark Saleski

  • DJRadiohead

    That rock family tree book sounds terrific. I might have to invest in one of those.

  • Pico

    Yup, that’s exactly what the interior of the Pico Piddler sounds like of late. Only now I’ll be listening closer for those cyclical arpeggios on “Air” 😉

    Brad’s been in some great company and it shows. Another fine piece of writing, Mr. Saleski.

  • Mark Saleski

    thanks pico.

    dj, be careful with the Frame book. it’ll make your “want list” explode. i speak from experience here.

  • Tom Johnson

    Damn. Another addition to The List. And this one goes way up to the top for must-buy-soon status. Dammit, there goes any attempts at saving money. Again (as usual).

  • Connie Phillips

    Congrats! This article has been forwarded to the websites.

    Also – thanks Mark for giving our Featured Artist and the column such a great kick-off for March.

  • Mark Saleski

    thanks connie. there’s more Shepik-related stuff on the way.