The Now is overdue. Bob Sheppard is an accomplished and distinctive
multireed player, a world-class sideman (Akiyoshi-Tabackin, Freddie
Hubbard, Chick Corea, Steely Dan) and one of the busiest studio musicians
in Los Angeles. Yet he has made only one previous album under his
own name, and that was 11 years ago (Tell Tale Signs, Windham
Hill Jazz, produced by Steely Dan's Walter Becker).
In order to get a new album out, he had to make
it himself. The six trio tracks here were recorded over several years
at Sheppard's home studio. (Four tracks with the lyrical guitar of
Larry Koonse were professionally recorded and offer better sound.)
Fortunately, the British label Sirocco Jazz has picked up this material
for distribution. While In The Now lacks the superb sonic quality
of most Sirocco releases, it compensates with the relaxed, natural
vibe of music played among friends, not for posterity but for joy.
is a suave, sophisticated player, with a seductive suppleness and
sheen to his sound on both tenor and soprano saxophones. He approaches
every musical idea indirectly, with an oblique sense of understatement.
Sheppard is always cryptic, in a friendly way, and he can make even
his most complex harmonic and melodic concepts sound approachable.
He does not so much perform Michel Legrand's "The Summer Knows" as
allude to it, twisting and turning it on soprano, in an unhurried
waltz. '"Round Midnight" is also distorted in a flattering fashion,
its melody fragmented, its meter rushed.
While Sheppard's approach is idiosyncratic, it
is not limited. He touches free blues ("Arrythmia"), tumbling, effortlessly
flowing celebrations of Cole Porter ("Everything I Love"), and ballads
like reveries ("Alone," "Easy Living"). His style with ballads is
genfle and deft, but mostly buoyant His soft, round tenor tone bounces
over "Easy Living" like a big balloon. --Thomas Conrad.