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Andy Sheppard: Thoughts and Trio Libero

Sammy Stein By

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Andy Sheppard is pleased to be back; not back, as in making a return to music—he has never left—but back in Suffolk and, more particularly, back in Snape. Snape was where Trio Libero—consisting of French double bassist Michel Benita, drummer Sebastian Rochford and saxophonist Sheppard—was born. The trio released its self-titled debut earlier in 2012 on the German ECM label.

Four days as resident artist a few years back led to lots of time spent in a recording studio in nearby Aldeburgh, where most of the tunes and arrangements were recorded. Sheppard, of course, is an experienced player and has worked with musicians including composer/arranger Gil Evans, and pianists Steve Lodder and Keith Tippett (with whom he made 66 Shades of Lipstick (Editions, 1990) with the proviso that none of the material be written down or prerecorded).

Sheppard is best, for me, when he is playing free. We discussed free form a while back and he commented that improvised jazz is always difficult and that it is far harder to get gigs now than 20 years ago; something echoed by many players I have spoken with.

When I spoke to Sheppard recently he had just played Lisbon and one of the things he noticed was there were more women and young people in the audience, so perhaps things are looking up?

Generally, he says, the scene has changed and he still believes improvisation is the very root of jazz music. Players vary, with some preferring to improvise completely whilst others play every note as written. Since he began playing, Sheppard has realized that improvisation is the most important component in music—more important than "swings and changes." It creates communication between the players and listeners. Sheppard's project, Sax Massive (see a recent Scumbles column), takes this improvisation to new levels and he feels it is a wonderful thing for people to come together through music.

As far as playing is concerned, Sheppard is more involved with Trio Libero than improvisation right now but is aware that London's club, The Vortex, is really good at the moment for offering a mix of genres, including free form jazz, and that the London scene, as a whole, is vibrant. Conversely, he is aware also that what is happening in London is not spreading, or not spreading as quickly as people might think it should.

As to the future, Sheppard is aware of many young musicians out there. Sax Massive has made him realize the importance of contact with the audience and that there are so many people interested in playing. However, there are fewer places to play.

It is important to understand Sheppard's philosophy. He believes musicians, venues and audiences have a responsibility. It should be his and other musicians' mission to create new clubs and venues. He hopes musicians will realize it is a responsible job to make music for the world. As for the audience's role, they should take care of players. ''When playing,'' he advises, ''put anything in, regardless of the tag or style it is labeled as or comes across as; don't worry about these things as a player. Musicians should play what they want but sometimes may have to compromise in order to take the audience with them. It is part of the equation. You have to keep bands going but you have to have places to play and you have to play to people and relate to them. Be responsible, otherwise you could waste a lot of energy and time." Above all, Sheppard suggests that you should be truthful.

This, then, was the background to the Trio Libero concert at Snape Maltings on August 19, 2012. Given what I knew, I was expecting a Sheppard who played free, although, because he was playing with two other first-class musicians and it was a concert of the album, I expected some restraint. Given the views he had expressed, I expected him to use the wonderful acoustics of Snape to let the music fly, rise and fall. Whatever I was expecting, it was not what I got. Trio Libero are unique. There was so much to be positive about in this performance. The music itself was structured and well put together; each musician's individual playing was sublime and there was communication going on between the members of the trio at all times.


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