Sweet Suzy/Top Down

by Dave Sumner- Bird is the Worm
There’s a sense of Brad Shepik coming back home on his newest, of returning to the starting point. His 2016 release Top Down is a straight-ahead guitar-organ-drums trio. It’s the kind of thing that would fit right in with a playlist featuring birds of a feather from the classic Blue Note Records era of guitar-organ team-ups. Usually, before an artist begins experimenting with the fringes, of twisting the common language into new syntax, new vocabulary, they begin with the straight-ahead. They make their mark there, in the place where everybody begins. The strange thing about that, however, is that Shepik never quite began at the beginning. Most of Shepik’s works ranged anywhere from progressive World Jazz to jazz-indie rock fusion to a sublime jazz hybrid resembling chamber music, and then sometimes he just brought the noise.

Albums like 2009’s Human Activity Suite and his 2005 release Lingua Franca with Peter Epstein & Matt Kilmer showed how an exploratory nature toward the musics of the world could open a panoramic array of fusion opportunities. His 2011 release Across the Way displayed how his inventiveness on guitar was a nice marriage to the odd but beautiful melodicism of indie-rock. And then there’s his 2015 duo collaboration with vibraphonist Tom Beckham, Flower Starter… a recording that is as peaceful as a Sunday morning and not a cloud in the sky. The closest thing to his newest would be 2007’s Places You Go… it had similar personnel, similar format. Yet, still, the melodicism took it off the straight-and-narrow and veered into distinctly new directions.

So it’s interesting to hear a straight-ahead session from Shepik. One of Shepik’s early collaborators, Gary Versace returns on organ, and this time is joined by drummer Mark Ferber. Many of these tracks are straight ahead guitar-organ trio pieces. “Sweet Suzy" is heavy on the blues and “Friday" is generous with the grooves. “Hall" shows how organ can bring an airy, soaring counterbalance to darting guitar notes. But, thankfully, there’s a track like “Aeolia" that sees Shepik hinting at an expressionism of a more recent vintage, where melodies are clear blue as the ocean but as malleable as blown glass.

Whether you prefer his straight-ahead sound or his more unconventional projects, Shepik is definitely a guitarist to get familiar with. His newest is yet more evidence of that fact.

Your album personnel: Brad Shepik (guitar), Gary Versace (organ) and Mark Ferber (drums).