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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Brad Shepik & Ron Samworth – Quartet 1991 (Songlines, 2016) ***1/2

By Chris Haines

Having been recorded back in 1991, hence the title, the quartet of Brad Shepik, Ron Samworth (guitars), Phil Sparks (bass) and Michael Sarin (drums) were rushed into the studio off the back of a lone gig. It seems that the performances had been thought of as not up to scratch and the project has laid in the vaults ever since. That is until now, and with a bit of digital editing the project has finally seen the light of day. With covers of Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin”, and a piece by Robin Holcombe called “Nightbirds” the rest of the album is made up of originals.

The first track “Confluenza” starts with a Middle Eastern sounding theme played by both guitars, which dissolves into a freer solo after a simple but effective bridging passage, with the two themes and variations of them recurring throughout. “Terrestrials” contains the sort of freer solos that I would die for, walking the line between tonality on one side and the chromatic disregard for it on the other, the improvisation weaving it’s silken thread between the two fabrics creating a clear but wavy melody that is just as elusive rhythmically. “Circa” starts with a theme that wouldn’t be amiss off a Pat Metheny album, but then continues with a wandering melody line full of chromatic interest, the like of which I can’t get enough of at the moment. “Plaw” starts with interweaving guitars playing chromatic lines accompanied by drum rolls and percussive hits with the intensity gradually coming to a point where the music takes a more laid back approach with a fusion feel to it. This then continues for a short while before the knotty sounds of the dual guitars become abrasive in character once again ending on a short tumbling unison phrase. “Bent House” with its tango feel is one of the weaker pieces and unfortunately to these ears sounds a bit twee, and wouldn’t have gone amiss if it hadn’t been included.

Throughout the album there is a looseness between the two guitars especially noticeable when playing in unison, which for me is a big part of the attraction of these recordings, a stylistic trait that goes right back to the beginning of Jazz history, particularly New Orleans music with the collective embellishments of a single line. The structures of the pieces are relatively simple allowing for the soloists to gleefully stretch the music creatively, which is where for me the interest lies, although I get the impression that this is where the bone of contention is. However, it all sounds remarkably fresh by today’s standards and seems like it could have been recorded later than the original date.

It’s great that these recordings have finally been released, and I’m sure that there are many of us out there, myself included, who might wish that we could play that ‘badly’.