And A Day… [8:06]
They Came From the North [5:56]
With Every Flower That Falls [5:53]
All Becomes Again [7:07]
Andy Sheppard (tenor sax, soprano sax)
Elvind Arset (guitar)
Michel Benita (bass)
Sebastian Rochford (drums)
rec. Auditorio Stella Molo RSI, Lugano (Switzerland), April 2017
I first heard Andy Sheppard playing live, as a young man, not yet
well-known, in Bristol in, I think, the late 1970s. He made a strong
impression on me, with the fluent vigour (and counterbalancing tenderness)
of his playing and perhaps for that reason I still have a mental image of
him as young. It comes as a shock to realise that he was 60 in 2017, though
his playing still has freshness and vitality, as well as sophisticated
imagination, to recommend it. Since that evening in Bristol I have heard
him live a few times – one occasion that stays in my mind was an appearance
with a band led by Carla Bley at, I believe, the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh.
Sheppard is very much a player of international standing these days.
Fittingly the quartet he leads on Romaria is multi-national;
alongside Wiltshire-born Sheppard are Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset,
French bassist Michel Benita (who was born in Algeria) and the outstanding
and versatile drummer Seb(astian) Rochford, born in Aberdeen. The same line
up recorded Surrounded by Sea
for ECM (2015).
is an interesting album, though I prefer Romaria. It is more
completely integrated, being best listened to straight through, since there
is a kind of developmental wholeness to it (though, of course, one wants to
go back and listen to individual tracks again).
Sheppard’s beautiful sound, and his strong sense of melody do, I suppose,
dominate the album, but are dependent on the superb work of his fellow
musicians. The first track, for example, is ‘made’ by Rochford’s work at
the drums, steady and firm, but leaving plenty of space – space which
Sheppard occupies to great effect with his long, sometimes breathy,
phrases. This is a tenor sound which harks back to Ben Webster and beyond;
it is rooted, in other words, in the instrument’s jazz tradition from
Coleman Hawkins onwards. Sheppard switches to soprano sax on ‘Thirteen’.
Again Rochford creates the mood – this time with some crisp and rapid use
of the cymbals. Inevitably, Sheppard’s sound here owes something to
Coltrane – as does a certain Middle-Eastern flavor to proceedings. This is
another rewarding track, though I’m afraid I that, on balance, I find
Aarset’s electronic washes of sound more of a distraction than an
enhancement. ‘Romario’, with Sheppard back on tenor, is a beautiful and
languorous treatment of a song composed by the Brazilian Renato Teixeira,
with which the singer Elis Regina had a hit in the 1970s. (The other seven
pieces on this album are all credited to Sheppard). Sheppard’s playing is
hauntingly beautiful – and is admirably supported by the rest of the band.
The original song, so far as I recall, was about loneliness, couched in the
imagery of a solitary figure in a wide and empty landscape. Such feelings
are powerfully evoked here.
On ‘Pop’, which, so far, I find the least rewarding track on the album,
there is some delightful interplay between Rochford and Sheppard. On ‘They
Came from the North’ Eivind Aarset, with the electronically extended sounds
of his guitar, creates a kind of aural ‘mist’ out of which the other
instruments loom, especially in the form of some commanding tenor by
‘With Every Flower That Falls’ is part of the music Sheppard wrote to
accompany a screening of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis at the Bristol
International Jazz Festival. Sheppard’s contribution, as elsewhere on Romaria, sounds every bit as coherent in passages I assume to be
improvised as it does in those parts which I imagine to be written. This is
a very introversive, dreamily reflective track, and the mood is initially
continued when ‘All Becomes Again’ commences but, seemingly prompted by
Benita and Rochford, a greater variety of tempo and mood ensues, so that
this track sounds like an inevitable development of the one that precedes
it. ‘Forever…’ is, as one might suspect from running the two titles
together (Forever And A Day) a kind of twin to the opening track ‘And A Day
…’. Each of these book-ending tracks has a dignified melody played by
Sheppard, being companion pieces sharing some musical material, so that
‘Forever’, rather than just being the last track on the album, gives it a
real sense of closure.
A top-class recording, not to be missed if you can help it, first of all
for Sheppard’s often ravishingly beautiful playing, but also for the
perfectly integrated group sound. As one has come to expect (indeed almost
take for granted) from an ECM recording produced by Manfred Eicher, the
sound quality is superb.