Monday, October 28, 2019

The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway

Roger Kellaway: The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway IPO Records

The celebrated pianist Roger Kellaway has released a trio album with the guitarist Bruce Forman and the bassist Dan Lutz. It is at a live performance recorded at Santa Monica’s The Jazz Bakery back in August of 2010 titled The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway and the music is effervescent, innovative and swinging. Kellaway’s influences have whispers of Errol Garner’s filigreed orchestrations or of George Shearing block chords, but the style is all his own. There is an infectious feeling of joy to Kellaway’s exuberance here and you almost wish you could have been part of the audience on this August evening.

Roger Kellaway is now eighty years old and his curriculum vitae is an enviable one. His work as a pianist and arranger includes important recorded work with Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Stan Getz, Herbie Mann, Wes Montgomery, Oliver Nelson, Eddie Daniels and with Sonny Rollins on the soundtrack for the film Alfie. His work with singers included Mark Murphy, Bobby Darin, Carmen McRae, Dianne Shurr and Liz Minelli to name a few.

Roger Kellaway ( photo credit unknown)
It's always rewarding to revisit the current work of a musician as regarded as Roger Kellaway. On this performance, Kellaway played a selection from some of the classics from the jazz canon.

The music includes Monk’s “52nd Street Theme” done in a rambunctious, gypsy-jazz style mixed with a speed that recall’s the work of Art Tatum.

Richard Rodgers gorgeous “Have You Meet Miss Jones” opens with a slower more elegant, orchestrated introduction that includes some carefully integrated dissonance. Forman’s guitar lines are quick and flow naturally throughout. He often trades lines with Kellaway in a conversational give and take that shows simpatico between these two. Lutz is like a metronomic anchor, always keeping the pace, occasionally adding variation and inspiring syncopation.

Sonny Rollins’s Strutting “Doxy” includes a hint of percussion most probably from one of the string instruments being tapped on in time. Kellaway has an inventive mind that finds paths on which to improvise on the melody adding embellishments, block chording and repeating lines that emphasize the direction and build tension. The group often settles into a swing and then alters the pace dramatically to change it up.

Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” opens with one of Kellaway’s signature repeating theme lines before Lutz plays the melody. The pianist loves to temporarily fixate on a musical idea, a part of the music that he just keeps exploring over and over for inspiration and effect. This song leads itself to some of that repeating form. Forman’s improvisational lines can be more unpredictable and sometimes surprising, and Lutz offers a creative bass solo.

Who doesn’t appreciate the mastery of Billy Strayhorn and here Kellaway takes a leisurely approach to his “Take the ‘A’ Train.” Bassist Lutz is featured on a buoyant bass solo as Forman comps with loping chords that set the pace. Kellaway’s relaxed piano here is sweet, liquid and filled with intention. Forman’s solo captures the classic jazz guitar approach of the masters, harmonizing against the melody with warm, inventive and surprising lines.

Cole Porter “Night and Day” is given a slow sensuous take played with such sleek confidence and verve that you can envision the trio functioning like a suave, Astaire-like dancer gliding over the melody.

The final cut on this album is Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” made famous by the Duke Ellington big band. Kellaway and Lutz percolate, creating a whirling tempestuous backdrop on which Forman plays the exotic melody. Kellaway unlimited innovations include a series of climbing and descending lines that follow the melody. His accents the music with splashes of chordal jabs, rhythmic variations and cascading lines of quickly played notes. The trio works well together like a coordinated three-piece Swiss movement. As confirmed by the audiences spirited applause throughout these guys are a delight to experience.

Listening to The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway will please those of you who just love good jazz played with panache and verve. The album is destined to bring more than a few taps to your feet and a big smile to your face.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Tor & Vale : A No Net Musical Collaboration by Mark Wingfield and Gary Husband

Mark Wingfield and Gary Husband Tor & Vale  Moonjune  MJR 098
Intriguing, evolutionary electric guitar player/composer Mark Wingfield joins with the equally progressive, audacious multi-instrumentalist, the British drummer/keyboard artist Gary Husband on Tor&Vale. The two have created an exciting new album that offers an atmospheric journey to the vanguard of creative musical expression. The collaboration was the inspiration of the impresario producer Leonardo Pavkovic and featured on his label Moonjune Records.

Could this meeting of two gifted virtuosos, Wingfield and Husband, be the modern-day equivalent of an often dreamt but never realized collaboration between artists like pianist Keith Jarrett and guitarist Terje Rypdal, as the liner writer Bill Milkowski ponders?  Speculation aside, these two musicians expand the possibilities of fearless collaboration.

Mark Wingfield (photo credit unknown)
Mark Wingfield is an American born, domiciled in Great Britain guitarist. To me Wingfield's atmospheric style is a futuristic, John Abercrombie inspired, electronically juiced star traveler.  He has a history of expanding the limits of the electric guitar. He continues to define his own individual sound, utilizing creative electronics, employing non decaying sustain and using computer and software enhanced methodologies. He often explores tonal variation and inflection, techniques more identified with vocalists or horn players than a traditional guitarist. He is  gifted with an enviable facility and an acuity for creative invention. His creative work is certainly out of the mainstream. He is influenced by a musical history that includes the study of genres like African, Japanese, Indian and Middle Eastern music, European classical, and all types of jazz and rock music. 

Gary Husband ( photo credit unknown) 
Gary Husband (photo credit unknown)
Gary Husband was trained as a classical pianist. He is known for his journeyman work as an accomplished double-threat sideman. Since 1979, he was a member of fusion guitar giant Allan Holdsworth's groups until the guitarist's death in 2017. On multiple occasions from 1992 through 2013, he collaborated with fusion drummer Billy Cobham. Impressively, to date, Husband is the only drummer to have played drums in duet with the iconic Cobham on one of his recordings. He was enlisted as an essential dual-threat musician for guitarist John McLaughlin’s the 4th Dimension Band and he lead his own groups the Gary Husband Trio and his Force Majeure, which included Mahavishnu violinist Jerry Goodman and trumpeter Randy Brecker. A propulsive drummer whose remarkable facility and inventiveness has been in demand across many genres, his artistry as a keyboard artist and pianist is rich and has an exploratory, percussive approach that retains sensitivity while generating mystery and power.

The title, Tor&Valeis comprised of two words that in the United Kingdom refer to a prominent, steeply sided hill or Tor, and a corresponding geographical depression in the landscape, a Vale. The music was recorded in the intimate and historic setting of La Casa Murada, a quaint 12th century stone and masonry farmhouse outside of Barcelona, Spain. To Wingfield the album's title represents a constantly shifting, twisting and turning landscape;an ever-altering environmental experience. As a listener, Wingfield and Husband lead you through a soundscape journey that hints of a direction, eschewing predictability, erupting with possibilities.

Wingfield contributed five composed pieces: “Kittiwake,” “The Golden Thread,” “Night Song,” “Tryfan,” and “Vaquita,”  The guitarist has once said “Composing for improvisors is quite different" (… from composing for classical musicians, which he also has done.)"You need to leave room for them to do what they do. … But at the same time, you have to write in enough of the essential notes, so that the music retains its fundamental story and atmosphere…”

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In Husband, Wingfield has found an empathetic and equally accomplished bandmate whose willingness to explore is priceless. The two have an almost psychic connection. Even during the totally improvised collaborations- the title piece “Tor and Vale,” the ethereal “Shape of Light” and the tranquil “Silver Sky,” - the two lead each other in unpredictable and uncharted directions.  This approach requires receptiveness and attuned intuition. Their chemistry is harmonious, innovative and intrepid. To me, these are the musical equivalent of  un-roped, free-style rock climbers ascending a challenge like El Capitan. They start in a direction and they never look back, always advancing wherever the moment may lead them.

Alex Honnold free climbing El Capitan (photo credit unknown)
The opening composition “Kittwake,”( a name perhaps inspired by the shipwreck in the Cayman Islands or the name of a coastal bird seen on the coast) features Wingfield’s rubato tone modulating guitar on this eerie melody. Husband creates a rhythm that has an almost militaristic cadence. When Husband solos, he maintains the cadence while he explores exciting possibilities on the melody.

“The Golden Thread," another composed Wingfield piece, prances into a theme through the guitarist’s gamboling melody. His guitar employs a moaning, very voice-like sound. Husband generates gentle classical elements on his piano accompaniment. The two start an inspired conversation in the last minute or two of the performance that leads to Husband creating a set of delicate cascading notes as Wingfield's guitar carefully decays to a fading sigh.

“Night Song” has an impressionistic quality that seems to conjure up a mysterious locale. Wingfield travels through this enigmatic scene, with guitar lines alternating between swift and languorous. Husband deftly adds accents from his piano in support of guitarist’s lead, adding his own gorgeous interpretations of interplay. Eventually plays a gentle, descending sound of water on his piano, an organic cascade of notes at the coda as Wingfield’s guitar fades into silence.

The title track, “Tor&Vale,” is an over sixteen-minute free-improvised creation  by these two explorers.  They start off pensively.Wingfield’s leading guitar sets the tone, penetrating the ozone, ascending the aural terrain with no apparent destination. He is a master of impressionism, utilizing what sounds like a looped whirl of accompaniment. He deploys a magnetic sustain device on his guitar that allows the notes to hang indefinitely. He can vary tone during sustain and create a seamless, smooth rubato effect. He also uses a bowed-string section effect that he modulates in and out like wispy shadows of sound in the accompaniment. The incursion inspires Husband, who is playing on an un-electronically augmented acoustic grand piano, to rely more on variations of manual technique. He responds often with a pointillistic attack, stabbing his lines in a staccato fashion, varying the music using timber, speed, strength or sensitivity of his touch to vitalize tension, tenderness or suspense in the music. Husband’s playing is marvelously heterogeneous, as he can evoke thoughtful classically inspired beauty, be tempered by jazz influenced rhythmic considerations or employ a radical free style approach to improvising.

“Shape of Light," the second of the three purely improvised selections, finds the mystical Wingfield opening this cumulus journey with measured expressive notes. This inspires Husband’s most melodic and buoyant responses. All the selections were remarkably recorded one take through without any modifications or re-takes.

The name“Tryfan,”, one of my favorites, is a name of a small mountain in Wales. Another composition that creates a dynamic soundscape representative of the impression the location had on the writer. With darting, piercing guitar lines,  Wingfield offers a sense of tension as well as mystery.  His distinctive electronically modified guitar probes into the stratosphere like alien transmissions originating from a distant planet. Husband, by contrast, has an organic flow to his piano; a gorgeous, melodic and more earth anchored presentation. He is a master of tone and attack. He offers a solo improvisation that is swift, poignant and creative, delivering some of his most moving piano solo work on the album.

“Silver Sky” is the last of the spontaneously improvised selections from this date. The music is maintains the flowing, ethereal and tranquil feeling of most of the selections.

“Vaquita," the last of the Wingfield compositions, is the final piece on the album. It starts out in a short stabbing manner that evolves into a more lyrical theme. Wingfield leads the listener into the barest of melodies as Husband creates an armature of rhythm that supports the guitarist’s excursions. Husband’s probing piano solo adds beauty and a sense of grounding the perfect foil to the guitarist adventurous digressions.

This is not foot taping or melody humming music, but an impressive aural journey into the unknown. This is a masterful collaboration that brings the listener to the outer edges of musical possibilities. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Cross Wind Tour: Legendary Fusion Master Billy Cobham w/ Randy Brecker at Atlanta's City Winery

Billy Cobham at Atlanta City Winery (photo by Ralph A. Miriello)
In celebration of his seventy-fifth year, the phenomenal drummer Billy Cobham formed a band to celebrate the music from his famous album Crosswinds. I was fortunate to catch Cobham and his friend and cohort, guest trumpeter Randy Brecker at Atlanta’s City Winery of September 25, 2019.

It was a special occasion for me as I first saw both Cobham and Brecker back in 1969, now fifty years ago, when they were original members of the then supergroup Dreams, in New York City. The recording group was at the genesis of the rock/jazz era that also sprouted horn-centered bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears, Ten Wheel Drive and Chicago. Besides Cobham, Dreams included trumpeter Randy and his saxophonist brother Michael Brecker, trombonist Barry Rodgers, guitarist John Abercrombie, lead vocalist Eddie Vernon and founders/songwriters bassist Doug Lubahn and keyboardist/guitarist Jeff Kent.

Dreams  Billy Cobham Jr., John ABercrombie, Barry Rogers, Eddie Vernon,
 Doug Lubahn, Michael Brecker, Jeff Kent and Randy Brecker 1970
William Emanuel Cobham Jr, was born in Panama but was raised in Brooklyn, New York from the age of three. Cobham’s love of music started him playing drums at the age of four. He had inherent rhythmic gifts and improved quickly accompanying his piano playing father on drums at the age of eight. He received his first drum set at age fourteen and was accepted by and attended the High School of Music and Art in NYC. At twenty-one, Cobham was drafted into the Army where he played for three years in the US Army Band. By 1968, he joined pianist Horace Silver’s quintet where he met and played with trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist Bennie Maupin and bassist John Williams.

Cobham’s influential drumming became a sought-after commodity and he became the house drummer for Atlantic Records adding his drumming talents to CTI albums by Milt Jackson, George Benson and Grover Washington Jr. By nineteen-seventy, Cobham had been tapped by Miles Davis as one of the drummers he used for the albums Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson.  It was at these sessions that Cobham met English guitarist John McLaughlin. By 1971 McLaughlin would leave Davis and pursue his muse to explore, write and play a supercharged style of music that joined elements of rock, funk and jazz-fusion. The band would become the legendary fusion band The Mahavishnu Orchestra, with McLaughlin on guitar, Cobham on drums, keyboardist Jan Hammer, violinist Jerry Goodman and, bassist Rick Laird.

My first “live” exposure to the Mahavishnu Orchestra was back in the early seventies at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Rutherford, NJ on September 22, 1972. There my friends and I were treated to a jaw dropping performance by this group that in no small part was enhanced immeasurably by the dynamic rhythmic explosion of Billy Cobham’s drums. Cobham, then twenty-eight years old, played a clear Fibes set of drums with his signature double bass drum, and what seemed like an endless array of snare, toms and cymbals. We simply had never seen a drummer like him who could erupt like a volcano and literally dance over the skins of his drums. His physical power and cat-like agility was astounding, a cross between a weightlifter and a ballerina. His performance and that band was simply mind blowing and I would never forget it.

Fast forward to today and Cobham is now seventy-five years old, having long ago codified his reputation as one of the most influential and revered drummers of the jazz fusion era.  Modern Drummer has called him “… a musician’s musician.” To celebrate his birthday year Cobham assembled a formidable band for his Cross Winds Tour. The touring band included guitarist Fareed Haque, Bassoon/Saxophone player Paul Hansen, bassist Tim Landers, keyboard artist Osam Elelwy.  Cobham was quoted as saying "It's been an adventure, these seventy-four years that I have been blessed to experience so much in my life." As a leader/composer, Cobham has recorded an astounding thirty-seven albums including his impressive debut Spectrum from 1973 through Red Baron from 2017.

Billy Cobham's Crosswinds

Crosswinds was his second release from 1974 and included an impressive cover photo taken by Cobham of a blustery cloud formation over the beach at Carmel, California. The tour is the forty-fifth-year anniversary for the album. Getting to see Billy Cobham and Randy Brecker reunited after so many years was a treat I couldn’t miss. The set included songs like “Spectrum,” “Spanish Moss,” “The Pleasant Pheasant,” Crosswind” and” Red Baron.” 

The band was exemplary with special note to the interesting use of Paul Henson’s electrically augmented bassoon and soprano work. Fareed Haque’s guitar work was intriguing, with improvisations that borrowed qualities from Latin jazz and at times crossed into Middle Eastern influence. Bassist Landers was solid and instep with Cobham throughout and keyboardist Elelwy added contemporaneous improvisations that were swift and agile.

Fareed Haque and Randy Brecker
For me the highlight of the show was listening to Randy Brecker’s trumpet work, which took flight, soaring over Cobham’s incendiary drum work. These two masters feed off each other symbiotically and still impress and amaze. Cobham’s continuously whirling motion is mesmerizing. His timing, vigor and intensity still evoke awe. Brecker’s’ fluidity, clarity and register range are still impressive and his extemporaneous ideas are always surprising.

Cobham, no matter how muscular his playing gets, always remains acutely sensitive to the musicality as well as the inherent timing of his drums. Even at 75, Cobham exudes the power and dexterity of a man half his age. On a drum solo in the set that I attended, he featured his two bass drums keeping a punishing alternating pace as his hands rapidly floated his sticks over his array of toms, cymbals and snare. The explosive rhythm that he generated percolated out of the man like oil erupts out of a freshly tapped rig. His playing flowed freely and filled the room with inherent energy that could be barely be contained.To say it simply Billy Cobham is a drumming force of nature, a whirlwind of rhythm that should not be missed. 

The remaining Billy Cobham Cross Wind tour (check it here) will be continuing around this country through the end of October with dates in Buffalo and Albany,NY; Natick Mass and Roslyn NY. If you have never witnessed this man play "live" it is an experience that you certainly should not miss.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The Artistry of Bob Sheppard : "The Fine Line"

Bob Sheppard The Fine Line Challenger CR73458
For those who follow music, in all of its many different genres, the name of Bob Sheppard may not be immediately recognizable, but the chances are his work on the saxophone, flute or clarinet has been listened to and admired by many of us since the early nineteen nineties.

The now sixty-seven year old Sheppard was raised in Trenton, NJ, under the influence of the vibrant Philadelphia music scene. He got valuable experience, playing in funk and dance bands, backing up popular artist like The Fifth Dimension and Tony Bennett, and earning a spot in trumpeter Chuck Mangione’s orchestra.

Sheppard eventually relocated to the Los Angeles area and the move paid off when he landed a spot in the band of hard bop trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard, a gig that lasted several years. Sheppard has written “Playing on the same stage as Freddie was a breathtaking and frightening experience.” Hubbard hiring Sheppard gave the saxophonist unimpeachable authenticity and the kind of ‘on the job’ experience that proved priceless to the saxophonist's musical maturity. 
Freddie Hubbard and Bob Sheppard (photo credit unknown)
The industry started to take notice of this unassuming multi-reed artist and the session work became steady. He was utilized by a sea of popular music artists including Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, Rod Stewart, Rickie Lee Jones, Bette Midler, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell to name a few.

In the television and movie industry of Los Angeles, Sheppard's horn has been heard on the soundtracks of movies including Jerry Maguire, Goodfellas and Forrest Gump and on television shows like Seinfeld, Cheers and Late Night with David Letterman.

Bob Sheppard (photo credit unknown)
In the world of jazz Bob Sheppard’s masterful horn work as a sideman is impressive and ubiquitous. As he says in the liner notes, even after all his years playing “To this day, there are so many elements within the study of music and the arcane nature of jazz that continues to intrigue and challenge me.”  His curriculum vitae as a sideman includes work with artists like Chick Corea, Billy Childs, Peter Erskine, John Beasley, Chris Botti, Bill Cunliffe, Stanley Clarke and Kenny Barron to name a few. His work was equally in demand for backing up on records featuring singers like Dianne Reeves, Michael Buble, Karrin Allison, Kurt Elling, Leonard Cohen and the great Ray Charles. As if these achievements are not enough Sheppard also finds the time to educate at the USC Thorton School of Music.

Sheppard hasn’t released an album as a leader since his absorbing Close Your Eyes from 2012. His latest release The Fine Line was patiently awaited by those who respect his work. The genesis of this album came about when Sheppard was introduced to the Netherlands Double Bassist Jasper Somsen at a Jazz Network event in Bremen, Germany in 2013. The introduction became a friendship and the two resolved to try to work together. With both artists maintaining demanding schedules, this album was delayed until 2016. Somsen was given the go ahead from Challenge Records to produce the record and the band recorded the music in California in March 24-26, 2018.

Sheppard’s gathered a band for the project including talented pianist John Beasley, a muse and friend of Sheppard’s since the two worked together in Freddie Hubbard’s septet. He commandeered the extraordinary drummer Kendrick Scott who the saxophonist has said has the “ability to shape the music with extraordinary groove and swing.” Dutch double bassist Jasper Somsen flew in from the Netherlands for the date. Somsen contacted his former teacher bassist John Clayton, who graciously allowed him to use Ray Brown’s double bass for this recording. The bass Brown used in his days with Oscar Peterson. 

Jasper Somsen, Bob Sheppard, Kendrick Scott, John Beasley and Sound Engineer Talley Sherwood
 The band fills out with guest artists Mike Cottone on trumpet on track 2, Simon Moullier on Vibraphone on tracks 1,6 & 8, Benjamin Shepherd on electric bass on tracks 2 & 4, Aaron Safarty on shaker on tracks 3 & 6 and Sheppard’s wife Maria Puga Lareo on vocal on the title song.

Sheppard compositions like “Edge of Trouble.” start the album off with the airy  sound of Sheppard’s sinewy soprano saxophone leading this driven composition. Sheppard’s soprano and Moullier’s complimentary vibraphone link in tandem, building on the theme like empathetic songbirds, before Moullier veers off with his own inspired improvisation. Somsen’s buoyant, pulsing bass, Beasley’s slashing keyboard work and Scott’s propulsive drums heighten the tension in superb unity.  Beneath it all, Sheppard’s presence is always felt, the quiet but powerful driving impetus in the music.  The pace changes as the instruments (bass, piano, vibes and soprano) quickly execute a fast, repeating line, forming a framework, that allows drummer Scott the space to skillfully ignite with his own creative explosion of rhythmic improvisations.

Sheppard’s “Run Amok” has a catchy, funky groove ignited by Benjamin Sheperd’s slinky electric bass lines and Scott’s Caribbean-inspired drum work. The tenor of Sheppard is clear, punctuated and Rollins-like and there is some muted trumpet work, that reminds me of Randy Brecker, by trumpeter Mike Cottone. The song has a happy, feel-good funk that recalls the Brecker Brothers in their day.

The title song, “The Fine Line,” is a gorgeous, reposeful ballad that features the wordless, celestial vocals by Maria Puga Lareo. The Sheppard composition may become a classic as it offers much room for improvisational expression over a memorable melody. The arrangement is particularly well conceived with Bob’s moving tenor and overdubbed flute and Beasley’s expressive piano sustaining the tranquil mood. Somsen’s bass is warm and large and Scott’s subdued traps are perfectly played.

Sheppard takes a piece from the world of classic soul with the Stylistics’ “The People Make the World Go ‘Round” from 1971 and re-imagines it, modernizing it and utilizing a particularly lively bass line by Benjamin Shepherd. Bob Sheppard’s vibrant tenor gives the song his imprimatur which has its own soul and emotion. 

Sheppard uses the Rodgers and Hammerstein composition, “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was,”-first played Broadway’s Too Many Girls in 1939 and later in 1957 in Pal Joey with Frank Sinatra- and contemporizes the song. Sheppard’s serpentine soprano is superb-light, nebulous and sprightly. He and Beasley seem to have, in some small way, been inspired by John Coltrane’s repurposing of “My Favorite Things” in their treatment of this classic. The beautiful song simply sings in these guys hands.

Sheppard returns to another of his own compositions, this time the Latin-inspired “Maria Tango” which features some outstanding solo work and a floating rhythm.  Somsen provides an plucky bass solo that resonates with deep tone and feeling. Some gorgeous vibes work by Moullier and Beasley’s journeyman-like accompanying piano are always a delight, but it is Sheppard’s engaged tenor saxophone work here that is just impassioned and emotionally superlative.

Somsen offers the somewhat rambunctious tune, “Above and Beyond,” that just percolates with energy and tension. The rhythm is anchored with Scott’s circular storm of drums, Somsen’s anchoring bass and Beasley’s creative and phrenetic piano. The darting soprano of unpredictable Sheppard can range from sensitive to frantic as the mood suits him and the music demands.

“Joegenic,” another Sheppard composition, saunters with swing and cool, as Somsen bass pulses the beat in tandem with Scott’s inventive drums. Sheppard’s gorgeous tone on tenor is a voice of strength and conviction that just sweeps you away with his intensity. Moullin adds some sensitive vibe work and John Beasley’s piano solo is enthusiastic and inventive. Just listen to his gorgeous cascading lines. Besides being friends for years ,it’s clear Beasley and Sheppard's have an innate intuition when playing together.
John Beasley and Bob Sheppard (photo credit unknown)
Sheppard reimagines a well-known but rarely played classic “Thanks for the Memory,” a song forever identified as comedian Bob Hope’s theme song. He and Beasley, who arranged this together, erase the schmaltz and instead inject the song with earnestness, inventiveness and cool.  Sheppard’s tenor is gorgeously Johnny Hodge-like in its hue and warmth. Somsen’s bass solo probes the lines with creativity and respect. This one brings a smile to your face.

This excellent album ends with Billy Strayhorn’s emotive “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing.” Sheppard arranges the song with a more swaggering rhythm. Beasley, Somsen and Scott create the tempo and Sheppard’s tenor articulates the theme with a commanding confidence and superb creativity, always in control and inspired by the song’s possibilities.

The Fine Line, an exceptional album and should memorialize Bob Sheppard’s artistry as both a leader and one of the most versatile and imaginative saxophonists of our time.