Album review: Brad Shepik Quartet — Across the Way

It took all of five seconds before I was immediately sucked into guitarist Brad Shepik’s latest release (billed to the Brad Shepik Quartet), Across the Way. The fluid playing and slightly dark, minor key tonality of the opening title cut evoked got me upright in my seat but also put me at ease.

While this album is unmistakably Shepik’s baby it also sounds very much like a democracy, in the true spirit of great jazz. The rhythm section of bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Mark Guiliana allow the eleven compositions on Across the Way to glide along effortlessly in most places, which give Shepik and vibraphonist Tom Beckham ample room to weave in and out as needed and to make each song a truly enjoyable listening experience.

Fans of easygoing jazz (not easy listening or smooth, though) can latch onto songs like “Down the Hill” and “Garden,” but the real treasures here are the more challenging and rhythmically dynamic cuts. “Xylo” might just be the best of the bunch, as it skitters along with excellent performances from all four members (but in particular Guilana’s nimble stick work). “German Taco,” as you might guess from the name, lightens the mood somewhat and is a showcase for Shepik’s guitar playing.

The sense of darkness and daring does disappear a little bit on the back half of the album, but tracks like “Pfaffenhofen” and “Your Egg Roll” are still excellent. Finally, the production on this record is outstanding — there is a real warmth and intimacy that makes hearing the album almost as good as seeing a live performance. Not having heard a lot of new jazz this year, I’ll say that this is an early contender for the best of the year.

Across the Way is out now on Songlines.

Favorite songs: “Across the Way”, “Xylo”, “German Taco”, “Train Home”

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