Brad Shepik's Human Activity Suite | Hungry Brain | Jazz | Chicago Reader

Brad Shepik's Human Activity Suite Recommended Soundboard Critics' Picks

When: Sun., Oct. 18, 10 p.m. 2009

Jazz guitarist Brad Shepik has long borrowed from eastern European and north African folk traditions—he was especially fond of Balkan flavors when he played in Dave Douglas's Tiny Bell Trio and Chris Speed's collective Pachora. These days, though, those sounds are thoroughly integrated into his improvising and composing; instead of switching between languages, he speaks in just one, albeit with an accent from time to time. Shepik's recent Human Activity Suite (Songlines) is intended as an indictment of our role in forcing global climate change, but he can only get so far with an instrumental recording—some pieces have titles like "Carbonic" and "Current," and seven others are subtitled with the names of the continents. Shepik adopts an Ali Farka Toure feel on "Blue Marble," his piece for Africa, and there are a few other instances where he tries to match a sound with a place, but overall Human Activity Suite fares best when it's heard not as a concept album but simply as high-level quintet music. Shepik's tunes cover lots of ground, from the spooky post-Miles atmospherics of "Carbonic" to the off-kilter cyclical grooves of "Blindspot" to the meditative beauty of "Stir," where Gary Versace's long organ tones provide a canvas for the introspective gestures of Shepik's saz and Drew Gress's bass. The guitarist leads the same excellent lineup that appears on the album for today's two shows, the first of which is this afternoon at the Chicago Cultural Center: Gress, Versace, drummer Tom Rainey, and trumpeter Ralph Alessi. —Peter Margasak

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