Andy Sheppard and Joanna MacGregor: A Song of Two Humans

Andy Sheppard and Joanna MacGregor: A Song of Two Humans

I went to see pianist Joanna MacGregor and saxophonist Andy Sheppard play their new live score for Sunrise, F.W. Murnau’s 1927 silent film, more for the jazz. I thought I might be slightly irritated and distracted by the flickering images above the musicians’ heads.  I could not have been more mistaken: I was totally enthralled by Sunrise, and now understand why it is regarded as a cinematic masterpiece. Images from it have haunted my mind ever since the screening. Continue reading “Andy Sheppard and Joanna MacGregor: A Song of Two Humans”

Two fine concerts wrap up the 2016 Liverpool Jazz Festival

Two fine concerts wrap up the 2016 Liverpool Jazz Festival

This year’s Liverpool International Jazz Festival concluded with two superb sell-out concerts.  On Saturday evening Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman showcased songs from their duet album, Song: The Ballad Book, and on Sunday Andy Sheppard brought Bristol Hotel, his quartet of Bristol-based musicians to close the Festival. Continue reading “Two fine concerts wrap up the 2016 Liverpool Jazz Festival”

The music in my head (part 3): jazz and beyond

The music in my head (part 3): jazz and beyond

This is the third post in which I recall some of the music I’ve enjoyed in 2015 but never got round to writing about. This one is dedicated (with two exceptions) to music recorded on the record label that is, for me, indispensable – ECM. There’s a lot of jazz, examples of the gift of ECM’s guiding spirit Manfred Eicher for bringing together musicians from different contexts to create wonderful sounds, and some of the contemporary music released on the ECM New Series label. Continue reading “The music in my head (part 3): jazz and beyond”

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.

Andy Sheppard: Movements in Colour

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

Jazzwise review:

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.