SHAW: Heartland. Shapeshifter. Song for Everyone. Mary Oliver. Peekaboo. Moment of Clarity. Showdown / Apex Sipiagin, tpt; Brad Shepik, gtr; Gary Versace, pno; Drew Gress, bs; Paul Shaw, dm / Summit Records DCD 763
Veteran session drummer Paul Shaw makes his debut here as a leader on Moments of Clarity with seven original tunes played by a highly skilled quintet which includes star trumpeter Alex Sipiagin. The music is largely straightahead jazz, and I was particularly pleased to hear that guitarist Brad Shepik plays in a jazz style and not in a rock style.
As is often the case nowadays, the melodic structures of these pieces are ambiguous, really just a series of licks or motifs, and not memorable in any way. The real delight lies in the quality of the solo work, which is on a generally high level throughout. It’s the kind of jazz that I enjoy hearing now and then without getting really involved in the musical structure, a straightahead blowing date. The only problem, for me personally, is that without strong musical structures the solos emerge as isolated moments of excellent playing without really having anything to build around, though there is a nice trumpet-guitar interlude in Heartland that I enjoyed very much.
As good as Shepik and pianist Gary Versace are, I found myself admiring Sipiagin’s solos most of all. He has a firm, attractive tone with a rich center and always seems to have something fresh and interesting to say. I was also very happy to hear that Shaw is a drummer who produces a solid beat rather than skirting around the edges with amorphic and often out-of-tempo playing. In Shapeshifter he varies his beat considerably—he is not metronomic—while still retaining a basic metric shape. Versace has a particularly nice single-note solo on this one as well. Sipiagin and Shaw also produce outstanding solos here as well.
Song for Everyone is a sort of ballad with a rather sad and plaintive melodic line. Bassist Drew Gress plays a nice bowed solo at the outset, with interjections by Sipiagin, before Versace plays a minimal solo. Mary Oliver is another quiet piece; I feel it was a mistake to program two slow pieces back to back, and this one I found rather boring.
Peekaboo is a sort of slow-funky piece with a melody consisting of running chromatic eighth note figures, but the beat changes to a straight four when Gress enters with his bass solo, and changes again to an uptempo swing beat for Sipiagin. In this case, the opening theme was an interesting one, but Shaw and the band simply discarded it in lieu of the solo work, good as it was, until it suddenly reappears in the last chorus.
Moment of Clarity is another somewhat slow, ominous-sounding piece. Again, good solos abound, but again, the theme isn’t much to build on. I did, however, like the closer, Showdown, very much. Again, it’s kind of a straightahead piece but with a kind of funky beat to it that I enjoyed very much, and Sipiagin is pretty much cut loose here and allowed to dominate the track, which he does not so much in terms of solo space, which he shares with the others, but in terms of how memorable his contributions are.
I liked Moment of Clarity for its strong and interesting solo work and think you will, too.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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