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  • Writer's pictureJAM

Rob Scheps & the TBA Band: Live at the Churchill School


Rob Scheps is an occasional staple on the KC scene, so he is likely familiar to KC jazz fans. Scheps, on sax and flute, always leads an impressive line-up, but sometimes an assortment, as this album’s title “the TBA band” reveals. This album includes Luke McKern on guitar, Matt Cooper on piano, Laurent Nickel on bass, and Michael Rodenkirch on drums. The album was recorded over Labor Day weekend at the Churchill School in Baker City, Eastern Oregon, and released Feb 1, 2021. Scheps tours actively worldwide and leads bands in KC, New York, Seattle, Portland, and Honolulu. He has performed with legends such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Buddy Rich, Gil Evans, and John Abercrombie. The album consists of eight original compositions all by Scheps, an array of modern and contemporary straight-ahead jazz. It’s a pleasing album, reminiscent of golden age John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter recordings. Although remarkable in many ways, the album effectively features Scheps, who solos (often on soprano) brightly and virtuosicly over an array of sound palettes—from Rodenkirsch’s subtle 6/8 Latin beat on “Green Goddess” to the wispy, smoky, groovy ballad of “Pellucid Redemption.”

The album features a full palette of styles, sometimes alternating styles within a single tune, such as in the tune “Stick Pimps,” which grooves hard on wah-wah guitar and sounds like an alternate theme song for the TV show “CHiPs,” then downshifts into a breezy ballad. McKern’s wah-wah groove is a little akin to Charlie Hunter’s work, and hipply so. With this sort of sea change mid-stream, a few of the album’s tunes perhaps branch from the musical family of Mingus and Zappa. The following tune, “Valentine,” also straddles ballad and Latin 6/8 grooves, and Rodenkirch’s tasty, subdued rim clicks at the end of Schep’s solo of flute are worth a listen, how the two segue together, how graceful and quiet the drummer gets, and at just the right time “Clambake” is full of mirth, a French jazz nod, a style not often imitated—and why not? Scheps is allowed to stretch, and his solos seem less controlled on this tune, more full of personality. So too the others, including McKern on guitar, who not only plays deftly, harmonically, but also allows that guitar to talk. Nickel too “speaks” on bass, reminiscent of someone like Milt Abel. The album’s last track, “McCoy’s Luminous Mountains,” sounds a little like a lost take on A LOVE SUPREME, with Scheps out front, all airy and vatic on soprano, and Rodenkirch providing grooving waves of sound across the cymbals, snare, and toms, ala Elvin. It sounds authentic and original, as if this is where one of the lines from Coltrane leads to today. If you enjoy the classics mentioned above, are a Scheps fan, or are looking for something new, this is a good album to add to your collection. Also catch Scheps when he’s next in KC. Hear it live, while you can. —Kevin Rabas

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