JazzTimes Magazine (March 2007)
Pianist Travis Shook’s previous album was an odd, appealing, insular little vignette, Plays Kurt Weill. It was recorded over three days in 2000, along with enough material for two more albums. It has taken Shook six years, but with Awake, all three have now been released.
Shook’s primary characteristics are his speed and his dry, slightly twisted sense of humor. On complex lines like his own title track and Jay Thomas’ “Touch and Go,” he airs it out.
But on “Counterblues,” which also flies, Shook brings in tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams to slither and moan and Ron Westray to take a slow solo on muted trombone that sounds rather like a kazoo. Next Shook shifts jarringly to a delicate two-minute miniature tone poem called, perhaps ominously, “Sacrifice.” ” Broadway” is more of Shook’s furious precision opposed by more Williams smears. Vocalist Veronica Nunn has to wait five minutes, through a drum solo, before getting to sing on Bob Dorough’s eight-minute tough-love song, “Nothing Like You.”
With his unorthodox, unexplained albums appearing six years after the fact, with his cryptic liner notes, with his chops that he only partly takes seriously, Shook is something of a mystery man. It will be interesting to see how and where he turns up next.
— Thomas Conrad