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Bob Sheppard: The Fine Line (Challenge)

A review of the saxophonist's album featuring Jasper Somsen, John Beasley and Kendrick Scott

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Bob Sheppard, The Fine Line
The cover of The Fine Line by Bob Sheppard

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.

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Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a longtime arts journalist and bass player based in Florida. Formerly the pop music critic for the Tampa Tribune, he has contributed to many national publications, recently including the Washington PostJazziz, and Relix. His byline also has appeared in DownBeat, Bass Player, Billboard, Variety, Spin, Rolling Stone, and several academic journals. The debut CD from his band, Acme Jazz Garage, gained airplay on about 35 radio stations across the US.