Brad Shepik’s Trio explore a Changing Climate

Guitarist and educator Brad Shepik’s compositions have attracted sufficient attention in the US for a transcription of a solo from one of his pieces, ‘Carbonic’, from his Human Activity Suite (aimed to increase awareness of manmade climate change), to be printed and analysed in the January 2010 issue of Downbeat magazine. That he is perhaps less well known in the UK, is no reason not to check him out on his flying visit to the Vortex, en route from Majorca. I’m glad I did.

Although a little reserved perhaps, he delights in showcasing his guitar mastery before an audience; the concert ran well over the scheduled time, and no one in the raptly attentive audience was complaining, or beat a surreptitious path to the exit.

During the first solo set he used pedals and loops to great effect to create ambient soundworlds on some pieces. On others the solo guitar was unalloyed, so the approach was highly reminiscent of that on Joe Pass Virtuoso series of albums; strong sellers in their day. Like Pass, Shepik is not afraid to let a solo guitar shine on its own merits, clear and clean. Shepik’s sound though was bang up to date, with the audience deriving particular enjoyment from his rendition of Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’. There were standards too, such as ‘Cry Me a River’, as well as a sprinkling of original compositions.

His performances were exemplary in their fluidity and lyricism, not losing the underpinning rhythmic pulse, be it swinging, grooving, or a jazz waltz. His style is to express the melody in understated but recognisable form, and then after a first exploration of the changes, to revisit it more than once in the piece as a launch pad to further development along a different path, so an attentive listener never gets lost along the way.  

He was joined during the second set by two local musicians, Tom Farmer, double bass, who has consistently impressed in the context of a few high quality projects over the past year or so, and James Maddren, drums, heard to good effect as a member of Alex Garnett’s Bunch of Fivesat the Cockpit only a week ago. A particular favourite of this set was a rendition of ‘For Once in My Life’, a tune associated with Stevie Wonder. Shepik’s approach really allowed the melody and meaning to be enjoyed at their best. New tunes by Shepik were also tackled during the set; one number, ‘C Maj 7/8’, displaying particular promise, at this stage of its development a tune in search of a title.

The evening started off auspiciously too: I arrived early to catch part of the French collective OXYD’s show downstairs at the Vortex. The quintet deployed gritty rock/grunge textures in the service of some of the most exciting, impassioned electric jazz/ imrpov I have heard for many months. The electric bass of Oliver Degabriele was clearly fundamental to their sound, while Oliver Laisney soared with biting, exhilarating trumpet solos.

– Graham Boyd

– Photo by David Benyahia

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