Brad Shepik / Ron Samworth
Quartet 1991SGL 1616-2
This recording was never meant to see the light of day. It’s is a tale of two young guitarists and of a would-be producer who didn’t have a clue, but continued to love his flawed step-child – long after it had ceased to have any relevance for the musicians who created it.
Brad Shepik (it was Schoeppach back then) and Ron Samworth met at the Banff jazz workshop in 1987. Ron was playing freelance jazz, r&b/soul and improvised music in Vancouver. Brad was studying at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and was putting together a band which included Phil Sparks and Michael Sarin. By 1991 (when this was recorded) Brad was in New York, living with Sarin (who had made the move to NYC in 1989) in a house they shared with Dave Douglas, and they were soon performing with him as a trio. Ron was co-leading Lunar Adventures and the New Orchestra Workshop, both of which had CDs out on Nine Winds, and Creatures of Habit, which had won the CBC/Alcan Grand Prix Concours de Jazz in 1990 and had a CD on Justin Time.
The idea for the record arose from a single gig Brad and Ron played in Vancouver in 1990. Each of them brought new pieces to the session, complemented by Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin’” and Robin Holcomb’s “Nightbirds” (“Way In” is a reference to Wayne Horvitz, and Ron’s collaboration with Robin, The Point of It All, came out on Songlines in 2010). But there were serious issues with some of the performances, and the project was put on indefinite hold. Ron reflects back on it today: “Music to me has always been about creating a feeling between people, so playing together as a band is far more important than woodshedding cool stuff to play over the tunes. In hindsight it would have been great to have done a couple of live gigs with that material and then hit the studio – it could have been a nice little project. I had so much regard for Brad and Mike and Phil and regretted not being on my game those few days.” Brad comments: “I had completely forgotten about this session. Surprised to hear it again in the sense that much has changed yet remains the same. Not a huge struggle to recognize myself – I guess I have to own it.” Michael’s view is more positive: “It sounds pretty damn good to me.” (Digital editing has dealt with any shortcomings in the performance of composed sections, and two pieces have been shortened, otherwise the music is as played.)
Why release it now? Certainly there is some historical interest in light of these performers’ subsequent careers, including collaborations with other guitarists: Brad with David Tronzo, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ben Monder, Steve Cardenas and others in Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band and Joey Baron’s Killer Joey, and currently with Monder as well as with Nate Radley in the Arthur Kell Quartet; Ron with Tony Wilson in his band Bugs Inside and currently in The Peggy Lee Band, also performances with Bernard Falaise, René Lussier, Fred Frith, and Mark Ribot. And one interesting comparison to be made is the versions of “PLAW” here and on the first, self-titled record by BABKAS, the group that Brad formed in’92 with Briggan Krauss and Aaron Alexander (with three releases on Songlines).
But the ultimate justification is the particular character of this collaboration. It’s true that there are a swirl of influences in the music. Brad: “Conceptually I hear Ornette Coleman, Jerry Granelli, Jay Clayton, Julian Priester, Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz. Guitar-wise Frisell, Scofield, Metheny, Abercrombie, Jim Hall, Jimi Hendrix.” Ron: “The Zorn, Frisell, Tom Cora, Tim Berne, Knitting Factory scene was what I was checking out as well as Paul Bley, Ornette, Henry Threadgill and Paul Motian. There were a lot of influences to sort out – all of the jazz guitar guys Brad just cited for sure, Miles, Coltrane and especially the AACM, Ornette and the Downtown New York scene. The NY scene was great because it was not just rock-influenced jazz but full on genre-busting. Skronk, Hendrix, tango, minimalism, bebop, complexity, classical, folk music – whatever you brought to the table could co-exist, and that, to me was liberating.” Michael: “My playing was a compendium of various styles and influences I was processing at time: Ed Blackwell, Roy Haynes, Paul Motian, Shannon Jackson (in the Power Tools Trio with Frisell – that probably accounts for any ‘rock’ element since I was never much influenced by classic rock drummers), Joey Baron, Billy Hart, Al Foster, Jack DeJohnette, Jerry Granelli.”
Yet, out of all these influences, this one-off created some memorable, compelling music. Brad’s pieces especially, four of them never subsequently recorded, display a tense lyricism, and his playing an urgent logic, that would stamp his work with BABKAS. Despite Ron’s demurral his soloing is generally effective, and the way the guitars interact and complement each other is often beautiful. Mike is killing throughout, limning and shadowing the shifting rise-and-fall with unerring grace. Phil, whose recorded sound is unfortunately less than ideal, provides much more than just weight and propulsion at the bottom.
Ron is featured on our other March 2016 release, Michael Blake’s Fulfillment (check out his solo on “The Soldier and the Saint”). Brad is self-releasing a record by the Brad Shepik Organ Trio, Top Down, in late March.