Andy Sheppard’s Trio Libero at RNCM

Trio Libero

Trio Libero is saxophonist Andy Sheppard’s latest band, with Michel Benita on double bass and Seb Rochford on drums.  We had front row seats when we saw them on Saturday as their current tour reached the RNCM in Manchester.

The great thing about live music is that you generally listen far more intensely than at home with a CD on the stereo. It was certainly true in this case: though I had played the Trio’s new CD two or three times in the past two months, in the RNCM’s main theatre I heard things I’d missed at home.  There is a tremendous rapport between these three players whose appearance and demeanour seem, on the face of it, so dissimilar. Sheppard, as always rather reticent with the intros, played soprano and tenor with characteristic style: varying between melodious, mellow passages, soaring solos, and moments of whispery breath-like sax.

Algerian-born Michel Benita, who has been at the heart of the French jazz scene since the 1980s and has played with a multitude of American and European jazz greats, plucked lovely sounds from the bass strings and occasionally created electronic washes of sound triggered by his bowing the strings.He was heard to great effect on ‘The Unconditional Secret’:

Last, but not least, was the extraordinary percussion of Seb Rochford, winner of the BBC Rising Star Jazz award in 2004 and leader of the Mercury-nominated group Polar Bear. The Scottish-born drummer played less of a timekeeping role, instead adding exquisite colour and texture, with the gentlest of brush strokes and delicate stick knocks. Beneath his trademark afro of incredible size, he may look deadpan, even a little shy, but he can also attack the drum kit with verve and energy, as on ‘Slip/Duty’:

The band opened with Libertino, a little Latin-tinged tune that Sheppard circles round, as Benita and Rochford provide an underpinning structure of varied beats and textures.

Other numbers included the spacey ‘Spacewalk’ with a lovely sax intro by Sheppard that sounds a little like ‘In A Silent Way’, ‘Lots Of Stairs’ that featured a solo by Rochford, a Benita/Rochford piece ‘Skin/Kaa’, and an Elvis Costello number, ‘I Want To Vanish’. After a set with no interval, the band returned to play for their encore the lovely, lilting, so short it’s hardly there ‘Whereveryougoigotoo’, followed by ‘Ishidatami’.

Sheppard has explained in interviews how the band came about, and its name was chosen:

Every time you start a new project you have to come up with a new name and it’s often the hardest thing. I was trying to find a name that was going to describe the way I wanted to make music with this band. My initial idea was to get everybody just to improvise and then to record these improvisations. We were working in a very free way as a trio and with libero being the italian the word for free, Trio Libero seemed the perfect name.  I handpicked the musicians in a very natural way. Me and Michel go back a long way although we’ve rarely played with each other for the last twenty years. When I lived in Paris I played with Michel and it’s taken this amount of time to come together again.  I only found out recently but when Seb was younger his mother brought him to one of my gigs. There was a moment in that gig where he thought ‘this is the kind of music I need to be playing’. He said his mum dragged him into the dressing room all embarrassed and years later we’re on the road together.

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