In the vast array of music available today, it is a refreshing alternative to encounter musical collaborations that pare musical forces down to bare essentials. As an example are jazz trios. With trios there is beauty embodied in the simplicity of the instrumentation, and the artistry of three musicians interacting with a more defined clarity of sound and the challenge of making music with a less cluttered musical palette. This simplicity also opens the door to greater complexity in harmonic explorations, melodic inventions and rhythmic interactions. It is this simultaneous simplicity and complexity that is evident on the newest Knitting Factory Records release by the Brad Shepik Trio entitled Short Trip.
Aside from all the musical experiences one may read about that have influenced Shepik, including his study and playing of music of Eastern Europe, when one confronts the music on Short Trip on its own terms, it is not inaccurate to say that it is in a similar vein as the work of guitarist Jim Hall or some of the playing of Pat Metheny. A listener might also be inclined to typify Shepik's music to be rather subdued and laid back--that is, if one concentrates solely on the melodic lyricism of Shepik's mellow guitar sound and ignores the underlying complexities found in the accompaniment provided by his band mates Tom Rainey on drums and Scott Colley on bass. True, what one hears on this CD may be compared to a low simmer rather than a rolling boil, but it is none-the-less, hot.
Of the nine tunes on the CD, eight of them are originals by Shepik. All nine contain excellent soloing by all members of the trio, and evidence of a high level of musicianship and artistry in the creation of an excellent ensemble sound through collaborative interaction and improvisation.
The opening two tunes on the CD, "Lupe" and "Non Si Si" are flavored by the sounds and rhythms of Brazilian music. "Lupe" sounds Samba-like, while "Non Si, Si" resembles a smoother and slower Bossa Nova.
The third tune on the CD, "Tuck On In" is a rhythmically wide-open romp with a more aggressive drive and stronger back beat than the two previous tunes. In contrast, the subtle down tempo tune "Short Trip Back" provides some of the mellowest sounds on this recording.
The fifth tune on the CD, "The Tiger" has at its foundation an underlying repetitive groove established by bassist Colley, over which Shepik layers melody punctuated by Rainey's percussive embellishments. "Pilgrimage" is a return to a Latin feel with compelling rhythms in the drums and a light succinct sound from Shepik's guitar. Bassist Colley also stretches his soloist "legs" on this tune.
"Tony Tune" the shortest piece on the CD, is also one of the loosest in terms of the interdependence of the three musicians. At times it sounds as though each of the members of the trio is playing a completely different tune, yet it all seems to come together interlacing into a provocative patchwork of sound. In contrast, the eighth tune "Squall" is the closest to a straight-ahead swinger, as you will hear on the CD. Drummer Rainey provides the unrelenting swinging ride that rhythmically drives this piece.
The final selection on the CD is a traditional Sudanese tune arranged by Shepik. In performance of "Karedok Luenca" there is great activity on the part of the drums, while the guitar is relatively sparse playing the rather simple tune.
In sum, this is a compelling yet pleasant set of music full of creative abandon. It is fair to say however, that it may be challenging listening to some, and it is unfortunate that there may be those who will not give this group fair consideration of their efforts. After having listened with great personal satisfaction to Short Ride by the Brad Shepik Trio, one can only look forward to what they will come up with next.