Bob Sheppard, The Fine Line (Challenge)
The veteran saxophonist and flutist Bob Sheppard has worked with a cross-section of other major jazz artists including Freddie Hubbard, Billy Childs and the Akiyoshi-Tabackin big band. He has also been a major player in the film and television studios of Los Angeles. All of that activity may account for Sheppard’s not having achieved greater fan recognition. The Fine Line could change that. Sheppard’s alto, soprano and–particularly–the fluidity and forcefulness of his tenor saxophone seem bound to attract more listeners. In an annex to Sheppard’s liner notes, Dutch bassist Jasper Somsen stresses the compatibility that he and Sheppard felt at their first meeting and then developed in this project and others. They played a series of concerts in The Netherlands and eventually developed this album for the Challenge label. With Somsen, drummer Kendrick Scott and pianist John Beasley in support, the music exudes solidity and creates a sense that just around the next turn of phrase, something interesting and surprising is about to happen. The tantalizing, almost teasing, ending of “Maria’s Tango” is one example. The waltz-time treatment of Rodgers and Hart’s “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” with its compelling Sheppard soprano saxophone line, is another. That piece also provides a superior instance of rhythm section sensitivity in Scott’s, Beasley’s and Somsen’s interactions under Sheppard’s solo, as they adjust to him and one another. Few jazz artists think of the old Ralph Rainger Bob Hope theme song “Thanks For The Memory” as a contemporary ballad choice. The feeling that Sheppard pours into it may make you wonder why they don’t.
Maria Puga Lareo–Mrs. Sheppard–sings unison melody with her husband’s alto sax on his intriguing title tune, which is briefly enhanced by his flute obbligato. Bassist Somsen’s “Above & Beyond” features his bass line swinging flawlessly and opening the way for a Scott drum solo. Sheppard wraps up this satisfying album with understated tenor sax power on his reflective arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing.” As throughout, the rhythm section supports him beautifully.