Arriving in Manchester on the same evening as crowds of United supporters, pouring into the city centre pubs to watch the European Cup Final, we saw the new Andy Sheppard Quintet perform at the RNCM. With Andy were John Paricelli on guitars, Arild Andersen on double bass, Kuljit Bhamra on tabla and percussion and Eivind Aarset on guitar and electronics.
The playing was uniformly excellent, with the music coming across much more incisively than on the CD (about which John Fordham commented in the Guardian, ‘a bit more muscle might not have hurt’). John Paricelli alternated between classical and electric guitars and excelled on both. Arild Andersen, looking like a mischevious Seamus Heaney, provided rhythmic driveto the pieces with his muscular bass.
A key element of the group’s sound is the percussion of Kuljit Bhamra. His playing was astonishing – at one point he was rattling out polyrhythms on the kettle drum with one hand in a way that seemed impossible. He has a strong jazz feel, but his unusual mix of percussion instruments adds another dimension to the usual jazz drum sound. His interplay with Andersen on Nave Nave Moe, and with Sheppard on Bingwas especially enjoyable. Bhamra is, I discover, an experienced producer, composer and musician and a key figure in Bhangra music.
Since Sheppard was ‘hearing a texture and colour as well as clean line’ he recruited guitarist and electronics wizard Eivind Aarset, whom he met while touring with Ketil Bjørnstad. It wasn’t so much the sounds Aarset conjured up that were extraordinary – more the experience of watching him coax the sounds out of his computer by gently caressing the strings or tapping the body of his guitar, twirling dials, and at one point seeming to play the guitar with some kind of blue-light infra red device. Eivind Aarset can be heard on ECM discs with Nils Petter Molvaer, Marilyn Mazur, and Arild Andersen – and also appears on Arve Henriksen’s Cartography. Aarset’s own discs include Electronique Noir.
The Quintet performed pieces from the new album – Andy’s first on ECM – and Andy drew attention to the fact that several are named after, or inspired by, paintings – after all, he said, the band are called Movements in Colour. Here are the paintings:
Paul Gaugin, Nave Nave Moe (Sacred Spring)
Henri Matisse, Le Tristesse du Roi
Yves Klein, International Blue. In 1957, Klein developed his patented colour, International Klein Blue. This colour, he believed, had a quality close to pure space, and he associated it with immaterial values beyond what can be seen or touched. He described it as ‘a Blue in itself, disengaged from all functional justification’. Klein made around 200 monochrome paintings using IKB.
Paul Gauguin – Ta Matete (We Shall Not Go to Market Today)
Joan Miro, Ballarina II
These seven tracks take their cue from a number of paintings and artists that Sheppard admires and have that same lightness and airiness that the saxophonist brings to much of his work. Do the artists checked here – Matisse, Miró and Gauguin – perhaps touch more deeply on Sheppard’s sense of his own creativity? I suspect so. All three were after all outside any formal school – Fauvism in Matisse’s case was at best a loose grouping of painters. At the same time, they share a profound and uplifting grasp of the power of colour and that is certainly a word I would have to use in respect of Sheppard’s music. Here it shows in the way these five musicians combine to kaleidoscopic effect that matters most rather than their solo contributions. The impression throughout is of serving the music. At times, they hint at something darker. The closing track, ‘International Blue’, and the opener, ‘La Tristesse Du Roi’, play with other emotions but in the main this is warm, upbeat, yet reflective music beautifully played and recorded.