"Jazz has always been an underground thing. It doesn't have the power and might of opera, but it should," says Andy Sheppard, shortly after the UK premier of Surrounded by Sea
(ECM, 2015) at the Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival. "Everyone in the music industry has a respect for jazz music, and they should, I think, realize the value of what's come out of this thing called jazz and the echoes that run through all other genres of music now."
A patron of his hometown festivalnow in its third yearand a tireless advocate of this music called jazz, Sheppard is more than a little mystified as to why jazz doesn't enjoy the same patronage and profile as other art forms.
"It's always been a frustration to me because I see in this music the highest expression of an art form and then I look at parallel worlds of contemporary art and to me there's always a kind of disconnect. There's the Tate Modern, there are paintings being sold for ridiculous sums of money. And then there's this thing called jazz and jazz musicians who are equally brilliant and yet we're still playing in pubs," he laughs incredulously.
Sheppard has played his fair share of humble venues in a thirty-year career but still believes that jazz deserves better. He continues to raise the battle standard and sound the clarion call to rally the rank and file against public indifference, arts council cuts and disappearing jazz venues. "I think we should all join the revolution," he suggests. "The Bristol Underground Jazz Revolution, I call it."
Sheppard has just released Surrounded by Sea
, his third as leader for the storied German label ECM. One of Sheppard's most lyrical recordings ever, it brings together Michel Benita
and Sebastian Rochford
from Trio Libero and guitarist/electronics musician Eivind Aarset
, who collaborated with Sheppard on Movements in Color
(ECM, 2009). Sheppard is unreservedly excited at the possibilities of his new quartet based on the recording experience. "It was a joy to make."
Despite the fact that the quartet didn't have a chance to rehearse the music before meeting in the studio the sessions went incredibly smoothly. "It seemed to work in our favour because we developed things in the studio," Sheppard relates "and it was great to capture that in real time. It all seemed to fall together in the moment."
Shepard had been looking to evolve the sound of his music from Trio Libero but Benita and Rochford were always part of the new equation. "I found that the empathy I had going with Michel and Seb was quite special," says the fifty eight year-old saxophonist. "We didn't use any monitors on stage. It was always very quick to set up and we'd just start playing. Sound-checks were just a joy, playing things we'd never played before. We weren't sound-checking the tunes we were going to play that night. It was just so easy to play with these guys that I thought it's just got to go forward."
Sheppard was, however, as indeed he has been all his career, creatively restless. "I could see that some people would struggle with the lack of harmony in Trio Libero because I can hear all the chords in my head," Sheppard laughs. "I thought maybe we should do something with a chordal instrument. "I wanted to make a new statement and Eivind [Aarset] seemed the perfect choice."
As well as their collaboration on Movements in Color
, Sheppard had played with the Norwegian guitarist in a Ketil Bjornstad
project at the Molde International Jazz Festival 2010a concert that later saw the light of day as La Notte
(ECM, 2013)and saw in Aarset the missing piece in his jigsaw.
"Eivind is like a kind of orchestral guitarist," says Sheppard. "The whole sound world would change and the sensitivity would change. I knew that everybody in the band would really enjoy him being there. So I sat down and wrote some tunes."
A couple of the tunes had previously been road-tested with Trio Libero and "Medication" had actually been part of a big-band suite Sheppard wrote for the Bergen Big Band. But everything really came together with the invitation to do a week-long residency in Lyon.
"I had a wonderful opportunity to rehearse the band in the Opera House in Lyon, in the Amphitheatre, which is a club underneath the Opera House," explains Sheppard. "They invite artists to do a week-long residency there and it's a chance to rehearse and work up a project, which is what I did in December 2013. We then reconvened the night before the session in July last year and made the record. It kind of fell together naturally. We all brought something to the table."