Harry Sheppard

Standards Unleashed

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Jazz vibraphonist Harry Sheppard will never be a pioneer in the tradition of Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton, or even Red Norvo, but he's an unfailingly tasteful and gifted performer. Unfortunately, that cuts both ways; like all of Sheppard's albums, 1997's Standards Unleashed is an entirely listenable and technically superior session, but for all the loving polish and musical standards upheld in these 11 songs, there's precious little in the way of soul and grit to be found. That's a shame, because what made the likes of Duke Ellington (who wrote or popularized nearly half these songs) so brilliant was the knife-edge balance between urbane sophistication and gutbucket raunch that supported his best work. The amusingly misnamed Standards Unleashed -- these performances are way too buttoned-down to be unleashed -- has plenty of the former but sadly little of the latter, which makes it fine music for the background at your next champagne brunch, but not something one's likely to put on for a hot Saturday night.