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Live at the Churchill School
New York City Jazz Record
By Ken Dryden
"Rob Scheps is a veteran saxophonist who has worked with artists as varied as Jaki Byard, Henry Threadgill, John Abercrombie, Clark Terry, Terumasa Hino and Nancy King in addition to leading his own groups. Scheps sticks exclusively to soprano saxophone and flute on this CD, offering a diverse array of originals, beautifully interpreted by a band he recruited during a return visit to his native Oregon: pianist Matt Cooper, bassist Laurent Nickel, drummer Michael Rodenkirch and guitarist Luke McKern.
Multifaceted opener “Hatshepsut” is a hip original alternating between postbop and a playful reggae rhythm, producing an infectious groove to get audiences swaying along with the band. “Green Goddess” is an elegant jazz waltz highlighted by the work of both Cooper and Scheps.
Ballad “Pellucid Redemption” is atypical, incorporating both funk and samba, with added percussion by McKern. “Amethyst”, midtempo with a hint of mystery, is dedicated to the late bassist Gary Peacock. When Scheps switches to flute, his bright lyricism is even more prominent while Nickel shines in the spotlight, paying tribute to a late master without trying to emulate his sound.
“Stick Pimps” is a sudden change in direction with the addition of McKern’s electric guitar and Nickel switching to electric bass. It evolved from the leader asking the guitarist to play like John Frusciante of The Red Hot Chili Peppers; the brittle guitar sound and funky riff grows on the listener, with brief detours into a more placid, straightahead sound.
The intense “McCoy’s Luminous Mountains” is a driving work featuring furious soprano and a dazzling piano solo, paying tribute to the late maestro Tyner. A followup recording is strongly merited."
November 1, 2021
"Rob Scheps often garners comparisons to Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane, but as a composer, arranger, and player, Scheps—a part-time Hudson Valley resident—has his own sound. He uses his soprano saxophone much like a trumpet one minute and a clarinet the next, issuing clarion calls that sail above the ensemble and playing emotion-packed arpeggios that hint of the Old World. And his flute playing on “Valentine” sings like a bird. His stellar outfit—featuring pianist Matt Cooper, bassist Laurent Nickel, drummer Michael Rodenkirch, and multi-instrumentalist Luke McKern—brings an inordinate dynamism and dimensionality to these eight original tracks, which occasionally touch down in reggae, funk, and Latin. Recorded live at an arts center in Eastern Oregon, Scheps’s music is both intriguing and accessible and should appeal both to jazzheads and the casual listener."
Jam Magazine - Kansas City, MO
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(Click on Jam Magazine then Album Reviews)
"[R]eminiscent of golden age John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter recordings. [T]he album effectively features Scheps, who solos (often on soprano) brightly and virtuosicly over an array of sound palettes. It sounds authentic and original, as if this is where one of the lines from Coltrane leads to today."
"Rob Scheps is in a constant state of inspired passionate music. This latest document of his Quartet, "Live At The Churchill School", is full of new compositions with focus and a beautiful feeling. I was completely captured. BRAVO."
"With all original compositions that are indeed original and unique with acknowledgements and bows to some of the harmonic, rhythmic and compositional advances that have swept through the young jazz community in the past twenty or more years. Perhaps live in the church space as opposed to a recording studio, the music does feel and sound like a studio date in its craftsmanship, sustained mood and precision performance all around. Give it a good listen, you won’t be disappointed."
Jazz Society of Oregon
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"The energy of live jazz has been missed over the last year, which makes an accomplished live record such as this all the more satisfying."
JazzScene - Portland, OR
"Strongly evokes the music of Wayne Shorter. . . stays cooking. Satisfying."
Baker City Herald - Baker City, OR
"Scheps has written a whole book of new tunes, eight of which appear on the Churchill album" . . . "an experience both exhilarating and humbling."
Willamette Week - Portland, OR
"Scheps' take-no-prisoners approach caroms between the beautiful and the brazen and never fails to engage."
JAZZ VIEWS (UK) - MAY 2020
There are times when this old cynic, upon seeing yet another sax lead quartet CD thinks, OK so what’s new? However after slipping this CD into the system and hitting ‘play’ these thoughts were dispelled. Here we have the inventiveness of John Coltrane, the swagger of Dexter Gordon and the lyricism of Ben Webster and this reviewer loved it.
Rob Scheps is an Oregon born New York based performer, composer and educator who leads bands in many cities in the US and tours the world extensively. He has played and recorded with many of the great and the good in the jazz world from John Abercrombie to Clark Terry, via Gil Evans and Buddy Rich. Away from the jazz niche his credits range from Ray Charles to Mel Torme, taking in Liza Minnelli and Little Anthony and the Imperials on the way. That is some C.V.
This CD is released on the Danish Steeplechase Label, a onetime home for both Dexter Gordon and Ben Webster during their European sojourns. There are 10 tracks giving us an hour of splendid music and the liner notes written at a train station in Sweden (how romantic is that?) describe each tune as a dedication. There is one original ‘Shorter Time’ and the other tracks by Messrs Abercrombie, Tyner and Dorham amongst others. Each ‘dedication’ in the notes is a nice tribute to the composer and to Scheps’ mentors including his late Mother to whom Duke Pearson’s ballad ‘You know I care’ is dedicated.
I am a little uncertain as to whether this is Scheps’ first recording venture into the jazz world as leader, if it is not, I apologise. It is a CD that will remind this reviewer that good jazz is not dead and he should temper his cynicism, 5 stars.
Reviewed by Clive Fleckner
NYC JAZZ RECORD - DECEMBER 2019
"Rob Scheps has paid his dues over several decades since graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music in the ‘80s, playing with such diverse artists as Jaki Byard, Henry Threadgill, John Abercrombie, Clark Terry and Nancy King, in addition to leading his own groups. Primarily a tenor saxophonist, Scheps also doubles on soprano saxophone on this CD, which features his New York-based group The Core-tet: pianist Jamie Reynolds and veteran bassist Cameron Brown, though his regular drummer was unavailable and the young Jesse Simpson fills in very well.
Scheps honors a number of musicians whom he admires, starting with the late Abercrombie’s “The Flip Side”, a lively showcase for his nimble soprano. Armed with his big-toned tenor, he starts Duke Pearson’s tender ballad “You Know I Care” with a furious unaccompanied introduction, before transforming into a rhapsodic setting. The intense arrangement of McCoy Tyner’s rarely performed “Message From The Nile” makes one wonder why more artists haven’t explored his extensive catalogue of compositions. Back on soprano, Scheps gives a lot of space to Reynolds, who is no Tyner clone but puts his own stamp on the music.
The title track was written by the late saxophonist Hadley Caliman, with whom Scheps co-led a band for a time; this energetic bop vehicle with AfroCuban interludes packs quite a punch. The sole original, “Shorter Time”, is a sublime ballad and feature for the leader on soprano. The rhythm section gives him a delicate background for his spacious, playful solo. Pianist Francesca Tanksley, another artist with whom Scheps co-led a band, penned the ballad “Simple Heart”, a lush, deliberate waltz, Scheps sounding like a singer with his romantic tenor. His treatment of Kenny Dorham’s “Short Story” is a salute to tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, who appeared on the original recording, paying tribute to the late jazz master without mimicking him.
Rob Scheps is one of myriad musicians deserving of wider recognition and more frequent opportunities to record as a leader. Don’t overlook this strong session."
"[H]is work is full of joy, life, and discovery - really great sounds on both the tenor and soprano sax..."
"Scheps plays with a confident approach, almost laid back and conveys thought and soul. Even on uptempo numbers, he projects an under played confidence and control..."
"Scheps and band interject modal numbers and post-bop riffing amid mournful cool-jazz, Baker-esque ballads."
Rob's Live Performances
“Kicking off the 2022 season with Rob and Matt is an unbelievable opportunity to hear truly world-class jazz in an intimate setting. I highly recommend going online to listen to this duo and come prepared to hear a program that ranges from pieces by Duke Ellington to Billy Strayhorn.”
"Primarily a big-toned tenor saxophonist, Rob Scheps deserves wider recognition. Since he arrived in New York City in the 1980s, he has been an important contributor to many bands, in addition to leading his own groups. He is also a nimble soprano saxophonist and flautist.."
HOT HOUSE JAZZ GUIDE
"One more indication of the depth of the Jazz Renaissance"
NEW YORK TIMES
"Coltraneish intensity at the drop of a hat" BOSTON PHOENIX