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Harry Sheppard: Standards Unleashed

Sheppard is a major talent on vibes. He has four-mallet technique to burn (although chops are not the focus of this album). He’s a rhythmic player who can sound like Erroll Garner stroking a steady four-to-the-bar as well as Monk splintering off in four directions at once. In fact, the performances have a Monk-ish quality: percussive, off-center, dancing and, above all, substantive.

Sheppard performs with bassist Bill Miller and drummer Ricky Sebastian throughout, with tenor man Shelly Carroll joining the trio on the first four tracks, tunes by Ellington and/or Strayhorn or Tizol. Miller, who has a fat tone, is both percussive and fast. Sebastian, who is Herbie Mann’s regular drummer, is a master of all grooves. Carroll’s broad scoops and assertive delivery suggest Ben Webster and Lockjaw Davis.

On “Caravan,” “Body and Soul” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” Sheppard employs what sounds like a wah-wah pedal hooked up to the vibes. One of the group’s most unusual approaches is “Yesterdays” played over a New Orleans second-line beat. The album was recorded in 1991. Considering its freshness and the group’s excellent playing, one wonders why it wasn’t released sooner.

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