Review of the Bob Sheppard Quartet at Vitello’s, Feb 25, 2010

Last night I caught Bob Sheppard’s quartet upstairs at Vitello’s in Studio City. Bob is one of the best saxophonists in Los Angeles and this was a particularly exciting band; Steve Cardenas on guitar, Jeff D’Angelo on bass, and the remarkable Steve Hass on drums.
Bob is a versatile player with a beautiful, rich and detailed sound. He has absorbed the music of the jazz masters as well as pop styles, and created a strong personal voice. He burns without overwhelming the band, leaving plenty of space for musical conversation. The interaction between these guys was remarkable. It was a pleasure to watch them listening to each other. At times the exchanges between Sheppard and Cardenas were reminiscent of the classic Sonny Rollins – Jim Hall quartet.
Bob pulled up a mix of standards, originals and lesser heard jazz tunes including two delightful Thelonious Monk compositions; “Green Chimneys” and “San Francisco Holiday”. Of particular note was his gorgeous rendition of the Jimmy McHugh ballad, “Say It (Over and Over Again)” perhaps best known as recorded by John Coltrane on the classic “Ballads” album.
I first heard Steve Cardenas many years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area when we were both playing with trumpeter Jeff Beal’s bands. Steve’s playing knocked me out back then and today he has become one of the premier voices in modern jazz guitar, performing with a wide range of artists including: Paul Motian, Norah Jones, John Patitucci and Ben Allison. He is an esteemed educator and is in town for a guest semester at CalArts. Besides his brilliant guitar playing, Steve is an expert on the music of Thelonious Monk. His book, The Thelonious Monk Fakebook is the definitive collection of Monk’s compositions. Steve’s playing is fluid and musical, moving seamlessly from muted two and three note voicings into perfectly voice-lead chords and flowing single note lines. He was always listening, responding to the music around him, developing motifs, and continually surprising with his ideas. His tone was warm with just a bit of edge. He has a slightly bluesy, behind-the-beat time feel which compliments his melodic phrasing and contrapuntal lines.
I had not heard Steve Hass play live before but was immediately enthralled. He has enormous energy, rock solid time, and swings like a master, incorporating Cuban, African and Middle Eastern influences without ever losing the groove. At times he played with his hands, brushes or mallets (in combination), moving back and forth in response to the other musicians. Steve is an exciting inventive player, not afraid to take chances. He grooves hard but never overpowers the rest of the band. He has worked with a myriad of top artists including The Manhattan Transfer, John Scofield, Art Garfunkel, Billy Joel, George Benson and Ravi Coltrane. It was a real treat to discover this fantastic drummer.
Jeff D’Angelo is one of the most sought after bass players in Los Angeles and has a longstanding musical relationship with Bob Sheppard. He sounded particularly good last night, holding down the center of this four-way conversation. His sound was rich and warm, he contributed some excellent solos and really hooked up with Steve Hass.
The folks at Vitello’s have created a comfortable, intimate environment for this great music. They are aggressively booking outstanding musicians and have established several regular events including John Pisano’s Guitar Night and Larry Golding’s Organ Night, both featuring a revolving door of great guest artists. The Tiramisu is good too!
Keep your eyes and ears out for this quartet. If you have a chance, check out Steve Cardenas while he’s in town, and please support Vitello’s and live music in LA.