As a first-call L.A. saxophonist, Bob Sheppard has famously toured with Steely Dan, played with loads of notable jazzers and marquee-name pop stars, and has appeared on—by one count—more than 100 movie and TV soundtracks. Between supporting others and teaching, Sheppard has only been able to record a handful of albums as a leader in nearly three decades. That’s hard to believe, given the polished, musically fertile The Fine Line, a provocative collaboration with Dutch bassist Jasper Somsen.
Joined by pianist John Beasley, drummer Kendrick Scott, and several guests, Sheppard and Somsen take on a mix of lively originals and freshened-up standards. And there’s an unexpected highlight, an aired-out, reharmonized version of ‘60s Philly-soul classic “People Make the World Go ‘Round.” It’s juiced by Sheppard’s slinky lead and pensive-to-rambunctious soloing, along with electric bassist Benjamin Shepherd’s fluid, funky lines. A nod to Sheppard’s roots? Also in the category of instantly familiar is “Thanks for the Memory,” forever associated with Bob Hope, and a favorite of Wayne Shorter’s; Sheppard’s horn here is suitably brawny and agile, and the tune opens up for an engaging solo by Somsen.