Andy Sheppard: Thoughts and Trio Libero
Part of great jazzor any other genreperformances, are those moments when the band meets with the audience on a cerebral or spiritual level. In almost every performance, good or bad, there are moments when the audience finds themselves led by the music, simply closing their eyes and allowing it to happenor else finding they cannot help laughing out loud because the playing has touched them in a profound manner. With Trio Libero, this happens but you have to be careful because if you close your eyes and drift off even for a moment, it is difficult to reconnect because the music, whilst superficially dulcet-toned, holds beneath its waves runs and riffs of such complexity you need to be fully alert to keep up with what is happening.
The only drawback to a live performance of Trio LIbero is that they are so tuned into each other that the audience ,at times, feels a little disconnected. Sheppard, a man who does not feel the need to be verbose, spoke a few times to the audience and introduced a little humor when introducing "Space Walk Part I" by stretching his arms as if flying, but the audience could have done with a little more communication from the band. This was my only criticism of this Trio Libero experience.
Both Benita and Rochford gave clever and dexterous performances. Rochford threw off rhythms, meaty solos and added color to the music with perfectly timed flicks, taps and knocks. He is, without doubt, a gifted and individual drummer (even if he does resemble a somewhat disheveled younger brother of Sideshow Bob). He used the brushes, sometimes adding an underlying whisper to pieces, sometimes interspersing clicks and nicks here and there, seemingly just because...... When he soloed, he was truly magnificent! Benita provided solos and matchless supportive foundations. His solos were fast, furious and technically brilliant, sometimes the notes seemed to blur so closely together the listener lost the plot for a moment but this was largely due to the deep, rich tones of his instrument and the acoustics of Snape's stage.
The album is populated with tunes of softness and gentleness. The mood is distinctly laidback and calming. Some memorable tracks, like "Spaceman Part 1" linger in the mind. There was, throughout the performance, a sense that the players and the music itself were seeking something, almost reaching it but never quite getting therea deliciously enticing effect, which keeps the audience engaged. "Slip Duty," "Ishidatami" and "Lots of Stairs" created a mood all their own.
Trio Libero is a change for Sheppard. Compared to memorable tracks like "Cheetah," from his album with Steve Lodder, Moving Image (Verve, 1996), and the counter tones of "Sharp Practice" and "Too Close to the Flame," from Inclassifiable (Label Bleu, 1995), Sheppard sounded subdued but it suited him and quiet does not mean still. His fingers move as fast as ever. I am still not sure, after listening to Sheppard play free and now with Trio LIbero, where he feels happiest as a player. For me, I am biased, being an outed addict of freeform that breaks speakers but I can now also see the importance of changes, musicians trying diferent styles and not being put in a box. Tro Libero was a surprise and, for me, opening the box was a delight.
Live, Sheppard can really soar, as proved in Dimanche en Fanfare and other Sax Massive performances, and here with Trio Libero, he did feel a little restrained. I wished, at times, his sax would soar but this was a performance of Trio Libero, and had Sheppard interpersed the music with anything else, it would have changed the feel and meaning of the concert. "I'm always Chasing Rainbows" was the one downside because, for an encore it became slightly annoying with its slow pace and endless pauses, and Elvis Costello's "I Want To Vanish" was almost unrecogniseable as the raunchy emotive ballad it was written.
Speaking to other members of the audience afterwards, I found a range of reactions. One lady described the concert as, "technically good but I felt very littlemaybe it's me!" Another described it as "interesting," and another was fascinated by Rochford's twirling of his brushes, but could not elaborate on the musicality because he had switched off a few times and found it difficult to reconnect. That is something musicans have to be aware of. If they perform a concert which is material people may not have heard before, there will be a mixed reactions. It is a brave thing to try something different, it can sometimes be a braver thing for the listener to give unexpected change a chance.
After the gig I met up with Sheppard in the green room at Snape Maltings. In person he is friendly, with a ready grin and welcoming. He opened the door to the room and ushered me after directing me from the stage.