Brad Shepik Quartet
Across the WaySGL 1586-2
“Shepik composed the music in 2008 during a German tour with drummer George Schuller’s group, Circle Wide. The tour highlighted music that Keith Jarrett recorded in the first half of the ’70s with his American quartet…The album is by turns quiet and intense…Playing with a clean tone, Shepik avoids blues licks. But his double-time solos turn up the heat on tracks like ‘Down the Hill’ and the syncopated ‘Marburg’. An attractive groove highlights ‘Mambo Terni,’ and ‘Your Egg Roll’ includes multiple key signatures.”
– Eric Fine, Downbeat
In the first half of 2009, at the time his programmatic world-jazz Human Activity Suite was gaining raves, New York guitarist Brad Shepik was putting together an entirely new group to play pieces he’d recently composed. Having led and co-led several trios during the last 18 years, he finally settled on a quartet (his first jazz quartet as such) with vibes player Tom Beckham, whom he’s been performing with for 5 years in George Schuller’s Circle Wide quintet: “Tom’s got a unique touch on the vibes and an amazing sense of harmony, he really gets inside of whatever he’s playing and pulls things out of the harmony that I don’t expect.” From almost the beginning of the process Brad was working with a young drummer who’s getting noticed a lot, Mark Guiliana: “He has an amazing touch on the drums and cymbals as well as an incredible groove and totally unique way of placing things.” The quartet jelled with the addition of bassist Jorge Roeder: “Jorge is from Lima, Peru and just has an amazing rhythmic feel and sense of harmony that really enhances this music.” Indeed, the finesse and élan of the playing in the back-and-forth of the moment, for example in the way the group flexes around the grooves, or the spacious, quiet, joyful manner Brad and Tom spur on each others’ solos, makes the music really sing.
Although Brad is still deeply involved in studying, teaching and performing Balkan music, this quartet embodies a fresh approach to the jazz mainstream – one that can incorporate for example west African (“Transfer”), rock/funk (“Mambo Terni”) and folk/minimalist feels (“Across the Way” and “Marburg”). And if the music may sometimes remind listeners of new developments from the late 60s or 70s (e.g. Gary Burton’s groundbreaking fusion quartet with Larry Coryell), Brad doesn’t draw hard distinctions between mainstream and freer jazz along stylistic lines: “The experience of listening to a recording of Django or Tal Farlow or Lonnie Johnson or Joe Pass or Cal Collins can hit me just as hard as listening to the great artists that are playing today. Also I think I hear a lot of the history of the earlier greats in the all of the really good players of today – they didn’t just fall out of bed playing the way they do.”
What the quartet format offers is “room to stretch out as a soloist and also sonically within the sound of each instrument….I like the freedom of playing with another chordal instrument [as well as bass]. The music I’ve been writing lately is less specialized than things I composed for groups like BABKAS and Pachora. We’re improvising just as freely in this group but with different materials and maybe in a more subtle way.” And although the compositions carry emotional resonances that might even suggest an overall mood or theme – the title Across the Way could relate to “people at great physical and emotional distance” and “a search for something away from urban life, something larger” – Brad doesn’t like putting a name to it: “I’m less interested in that – isn’t that what music is for? The freedom to interpret the music spontaneously keeps things fresh for me as a player and composer. On the other hand music that has a strong, premeditated, fleshed-out program is something I also enjoy as a listener. It’s really two sides of the same coin. You could say that jazz/improvised music also has a program, only it’s being composed by the entire group on the spot in performance instead of beforehand by a single composer, [which] allows us as musicians as well as the audience to interpret the music based on the present situation. For myself that includes as much as I could potentially be aware of at that moment – my own emotional and physical state, the physical space we’re in, the acoustics, the sounds of the instruments, the sounds and presence of an audience. When the musicians are all doing that – it’s a pretty free situation no matter what we’re playing. I’m willing to trust that that is going to be interesting for someone to listen to.”
“…The combination of crystalline vibes and fluid guitar lines immediately recalls Gary Burton’s quartet with Pat Metheny (specifically 1976’s Passengers). This quality is particularly evident on the evocative, chamber-like numbers ‘Down the Hill’ and ‘Garden.’ The moody title track, underscored by Shepik’s pensive arpeggiating, is highlighted by Roeder’s expressive upright bass solo and Guiliana’s remarkable sensitivity and interactive touch. The exhilarating ‘Xylo,’ with its dark lines and challenging intervals, marks some different territory – more Pat Martino than Pat Metheny.…Principal soloists Shepik and Beckham both dig into the funky fabric of the chugging ‘Mambo Terni’ with gritty abandon, then dance intricate unison and cascading counterpoint lines around each other on the challenging ‘Your Egg Roll’ (with allusions to Chick Corea and Burton’s duet on ‘La Fiesta’)…This beautiful collaboration offers further evidence for Shepik as one of the most consistently creative and stimulating guitarist-composers on the scene today.” – Bill Milkowski, Jazz Times