Many years ago, when I first heard him play, I was thrilled with Brad Shepik's technically brilliant and creative guitar playing, especially when he used the variety of non-western scales and rhythms that he masters, and I kept following him closely with bands like Dave Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio, the Paradox Trio, Pachora, his own "The Loan" and "The Well", or his recent trio with Peter Epstein and Matt Kilmer. Then he moved into more mainstream jazz, with records such as "Places You Go", technically excellent, yet musically less compelling. On this one, he combines his breadth of scope with more traditional jazz idioms, making it hard to catalogue this as world jazz, despite the obvious influences. The band accompanying him is absolutely stellar, with Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Gary Versace on keyboards, and even accordion, Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. The album is built around the concept of a world tour, starting in South America, and then systematically visiting all continents. But I dare anyone to listen to the tracks without reading the liner notes and tell me which tune represents which continent. The local music is used, but mainly as a starting point, then transformed into a jazz idiom and further elaborated upon by this great band's improvisational skills. The compositions themselves further try to evocate the imagery Shepik had of those far-away places.
But while it is all beautiful, melodic, complex in its structures and rhythms, technically skillful, it is at the same time also very polished and contained. Don't expect the wild guitar excursions from "The Loan" or "The Well", or the raw delivery of Babkas, or the clever gems of the Tiny Bell Trio, the music is toned down, with no more room for extreme emotions. It is subtle, yes, but a little more direct emotional expressivity would have pleased me more. Now it is, yes ... too nice.
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