London Evening Standard
Wed 3 July 2002
JAZZ: Artistic superman shapes up nicely
Bob Sheppard Quartet
Ronnie Scotts

Ronnie Scott FlyerON a rainy night in Frith Street, it seems like it's raining all over the world. The bonus for performers on such nights is that the casual tourists stay away and only the dedicated music lovers venture out. So it was last night that the groups of US saxman Bob Sheppard and local heroine Rachel Calladine basked in the enthusiastic attention every artist craves. Naturally, both responded by giving their best.
    Calladine, a straight-backed, athletic blonde in a little black number, gained confidence to the extent of dismissing her group for the closing number of the first set, and delivering a soulful Knocks Me off My Feet with only pianist Jim Watson for company. As a dramatic arrangement and a blow for individuality, it worked well.
    Sheppard is a sort of jazz Clark Kent, whose mild manner and bespectacled, studious appearance conceals a super-versatile talent. He recently went solo after sideman service with big names including guitarist Mike Stern, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and pianist Chick Corea. His main income, however, continues to come from Hollywood's film and recording studios, which explains him being the bee's knees on a whole clutch of instruments.
    A man who understands sound checks, he was perfectly miked, and he wore a new-fangled saxophone sling arranged so that his rear trouser braces, and not the back of his neck, took the strain. Opening on tenor sax with a clever original based on the changes of How Deep is the Ocean, he produced some shapely ideas and effortless harmonics that extended his dry, post-Trane sound to three full octaves. Bassist Jeff D'Angelo and drummer Jeff Ballard drove him tidily along, and Billy Childs, a typically agile US pianist, soloed fluently In the approved Hancock-meets-Tyner style.
    Switching to soprano sax for a Latinate ballad, Quiet Girl, Sheppard's warm sound avoided the usual snake-charmer effect, a trend confirmed by his gentle flute solo on the standard, I Fall in Love too Easily. As he progressed through his instruments one began to wonder what his favourite was. His might not be one of your life-altering weeks here, perhaps, but it is certainly one of solid contemporary craftsmanship.--Jack Massarik