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Norfolk and Norwich Festival
May 1, 2009
Tenor-soprano saxophonist Andy Sheppard (pictured left) showcased his album Movements in Colour, his first on the ECM label (2009), in what was a beautiful performance in Norwich's Playhouse. Sheppard and his quartet played on the first night of the annual Norfolk and Norwich Festival, opening the festival with a virtuoso display that wowed the sell-out crowd.
The quartet featured bassist Arild Andersen, John Parricelli on guitar and Kuljit Bhamra on tabla and percussion: Eivind Aarset, who also plays guitar on the album, was absent for this performance.
Sheppard led the musicians through most of the compositions from the album and created an immediately accessible atmosphere even for those who were not familiar with the music. The quartet's ability as musicians was clear from the beginning, and their own familiarity with the pieces enabled them to play confidently either as an ensemble or as soloists, despite the fact that this was only the second live performance of pieces from the album. Sheppard's own playing, on tenor and soprano saxophones, showed subtlety and skill. Andersen's bass playing was magnificent, a masterly display of the art of leaving space rather than filling every second with a flurry of notes. Parricelli's electric guitar playing sometimes lacked emotional involvement to complement his technical facility, but his move to acoustic guitars, especially on "Bing," combined technical skill and feeling to create some fine single-note solos.
The key to the group's distinctive sound is the percussion of Kuljit Bhamra. His playing displays jazz sensibilities, but his choice of instruments adds another dimension to the usual jazz drum sound. Bhamra is an experienced producer, composer and musician: he is a key figure in Bhangra music and has performed in and composed for movies and West End theater. He brings this vast array of experience to his jazz collaborations and does so with great humour and obvious pleasure. His interplay with Andersen on "Nave Nave Moe" was especially enjoyable.
All the musicians clearly enjoyed themselves, particularly Bhamra, who smiled almost constantly throughout the set. This enjoyment readily transferred to the audience, whose response to the music was warm and enthusiastic. Andy Sheppard's Movements in Colour is a unique and beautiful work: the Festival couldn't have chosen a better opening performance.