Andy Sheppard Quartet – Surrounded By Sea (2015)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 53:25 minutes | 0,97 GB | Genre: Jazz
Official Digital Download – Source: highresaudio.com | © ECM Records
Recorded: August 2014, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Extending the range of his widely-praised Trio Libero project with French bassist Michel Benita and Scottish drummer Seb Rochford, Andy Sheppard adds the Norwegian guitarist and electronics wizard Eivind Aarset to his band for „Surrounded by Sea“.
With Aarset’s ambient drones and electronic textures as a backdrop, Sheppard and co seem to have even more space to explore than on the saxophonist’s acclaimed Trio Libero recording (2786630). The music embraced here includes new compositions by Sheppard, Benita and Rochford, open improvisations, the Elvis Costello tune “I Want To Vanish”, and the Gaelic traditional ballad “Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idir” which appears in three variations, a thematic thread through the album. ‘Surrounded by Sea’ was recorded at Lugano in August-September 2014 with Manfred Eicher producing.
The prodigiously gifted Andy Sheppard famously took up the saxophone at 19, inspired by Coltrane, and played his first gig with it three weeks later. After a period in Paris, he returned to the UK in the mid-80s, recording the album ‘Andy Sheppard’ with Steve Swallow as producer, the beginning of a long musical association. Since then he’s recorded extensively and written trans-idiomatic music for ensembles of every size (his Saxophone Massive project has included 200 sax players) as well as for theatre, film, dance and mixed media.
Sheppard’s collaborators over the years have ranged from Han Bennink and Joanna MacGregor to Keith Tippett, L. Shankar and Kathryn Tickell. He has played with numerous key jazz artists, including the exceptional composers George Russell, Gil Evans and Carla Bley, and recorded many times with the latter for her ECM-distributed WATT label. Sheppard released his first ECM leader date, the hugely-popular ‘Movements in Colour’ (1795042), in 2009.
Saxophonist/composer Andy Sheppard has found a home in ECM. It’s maybe not the perfect home for an artist as eclectic as Sheppard, for it’s hard to see some of his other projects—notably the Scofield/Lovanoesque quartet Hotel Bristol—fitting in with the ECM aesthetic. Still, Sheppard’s melodic improvisational approach and the airy lyricism on Movements in Color (ECM, 2009) and Trio Libero (ECM, 2012) fitted the ECM blueprint beautifully and rank among his most seductive recordings. With Surrounded by Sea Sheppard expands the sonic palette of Trio Libero with the addition of guitarist/electronics musician Eivind Aarset, whose ambient craft adds profundity—and simmering edge—to the prevailing undertstaed lyricism.
Surrounded by Sea trades some of Trio Libero’s rubato grace for greater harmonic layers and rhythmic dynamics; on the stunning opener “Tipping Point,” Michel Benita’s deep bass ostinato and Sebastian Rochford’s skipping grooves drive Sheppard’s tenor siren, while Aarset’s embedded drone and softly voiced, washing six-string textures add atmospheric ambient textures. Sheppard’s trademark soprano melodicism is to the fore on Elvis Costello’s “I Want to Vanish,” a lulling ballad of folkloric charm where Rochford’s brushes sigh like waves on a pebble beach.
Folk music has colored most of Sheppards’ recorded output over the years and here the quartet addresses “Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idir,” a traditional Scottish song. The tune blossomed into a twenty-minute improvisation in the studio, was subsequently pruned and woven through the album in three parts, conferring a suite-like continuity on the whole. Hauntingly atmospheric and abundantly lyrical, Sheppard’s yearning soprano is lent buoyancy by the loose grooves on the first and third parts. Part two is a fleeting vignette whose feathery lyricism dissipates and vanishes like the lightest of breezes briefly felt. More of this improvised/studio-sculpted mini-suite embedded throughout the album wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Gentle eddies of bass and tenor saxophone color the poetic “Origin of the Species,” with Aarset’s orchestral waves subtly infusing the narrative; Rochford’s presence is ghostly—sensed rather than heard. A similar aesthetic imbues “The Impossibility of Silence,” with brushes more prominent. Fractured rhythms and echoing guitar plot the course on “They Aren’t Perfect and Neither Am I,” a brooding quartet tale where sketchy composed lines and measured improvisation dovetail easily. The low-rumbling intensity of the intro to “I See Your Eyes before Me” gives way to Sheppard’s tenor lead, searching and ruminative in turn. The simple architecture of the dreamy waltz “A Letter” foregrounds Sheppard’s beautiful weighted soprano lines.
Sheppard revisits older material on the hypnotic “Medication,” previously interpreted with the Bergen Big Band; Aarset shadows Sheppard’s defining melody closely before the saxophonist peels away over Rochford’s light, yet propulsive groove. On “Looking for Ornette,” Sheppard is drawn once more to explore the nuances of his Ornette Coleman-inspired piece that appeared on Dancing Man and Woman (Provocateur Records, 2000), closing this album in quietly celebratory mode.
Surrounded by Sea is an intimate statement whose chemistry belies the quartet’s brief existence. There’s a bold honesty in the music’s refined contours and graceful adventure that invites and rewards the patient listener. There’s the feeling too, that this quartet has plenty more to offer. –Ian Patterson, All About Jazz
Though Andy Sheppard has a long relationship with ECM via his work in Carla Bley’s various bands, Surrounded by Sea marks only his third date as a leader for the label. On this album, Sheppard once again employs double bassist Michel Benita and drummer Sebastian Rochford from 2012’s Trio Libero, and adds guitarist/electronicist Eivind Aarset, who played on the saxophonist’s ECM debut, Movements in Colour, in 2009. The guitarist, who almost never plays conventionally, provides the additional atmospheric element Sheppard sought to express in these tunes. The album’s centerpiece is a reading of the Gaelic “Aoid, Na Dean Cadal Idir.” It was initially intended to be part of a collaborative album with Hebridean folk singer Julie Fowlis, but the project never came to fruition. In the studio, producer Manfred Eicher encouraged the quartet to continue playing for 20 minutes. It has been edited down into three parts that act as a suite to anchor the other compositions. Sheppard takes the melody on his soprano and improvises on its theme, while Rochford’s slippery brush and stickwork paint the time in rubato fashion. Aarset’s ambient washes color the spaces and backdrop as Benita’s ostinato phrasing holds the center. Strategically placed between nine other airy, mostly languid compositions, it creates the notion of a cyclical, even familiar return. “Tipping Point,” with its eerie, hesitant, out-of-the-fog lyricism, gradually builds in tension — Rochford’s snare and cymbal work is precise, crystalline — winding around Benita as Aarset’s sonics accent Sheppard’s suggestive phrasing. But there is no release; it is altogether abandoned on the next track, Elvis Costello’s ballad “I Want to Vanish,” which offers delightful interplay between Sheppard and Benita. The set’s most haunting tune is “Medication.” Rochford’s trance-like brushwork draws the listener toward Sheppard’s thematic exposition while the guitarist hovers and the bassist builds the bridge between them all. On “I See Your Eyes Before Me,” Aarset’s guitar is at its most insistent. His shard-like chords and angular single-string flourishes add momentum to the interaction between Sheppard and Benita. “Looking for Ornette” was inspired by the alto pioneer’s reliance on short, repetitive lines to unveil rhythmic, tonal, and textural notions within them. Sheppard’s own spin is gentler, slower, rounder. Surrounded by Sea invites the listener into an intimate, mysterious sound world. Sheppard’s band plays with discipline and restraint. Through extremely close listening, the players explore the mystery of melody — both plainly stated and implied — and its various thematic trails in inspired if laid-back dialogue. –Thom Jurek, AllMusic
1. Tipping Point 06:16
2. I Want to Vanish 05:16
3. Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idir, Pt. 1 04:18
4. Origin of Species 05:06
5. They Aren’t Perfect and Neither Am I 05:09
6. Medication 05:02
7. Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idir, Pt. 2 01:14
8. The Impossibility of Silence 06:18
9. I See Your Eyes Before Me 03:49
10. A Letter 04:19
11. Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idir, Pt. 3 03:29
12. Looking for Ornette 03:09
Andy Sheppard, tenor and soprano saxophones
Eivind Aarset, guitar and electronics
Michel Benita, double bass
Sebastian Rochford, drums