Andy Sheppard/Michel Benita/Sebastian Rochford – Trio Libero
(ECM 278 6630. CD Review by Chris Parker)
Andy Sheppard first played with Algerian-born bassist Michel Benita in the 1980s, when the former was a Paris resident, playing with the performance big band Urban Sax, but all the members of Trio Libero, which is completed by drummer Seb Rochford, first performed together as part of a band celebrating the music of Serge Gainsbourg at the Coutances Jazz Festival in 2008.
Sensing a mutual compatibility, described by Sheppard thus – ‘I just felt that anything was possible with these guys’ – the Bristolian saxophonist ‘locked the trio in a room for four days and said: “Let’s just improvise together, record everything and see what we come up with.”‘ In this way, they achieved an ease of interaction based on hair-trigger sensitivity to each other’s playing that is apparent throughout this thoroughly absorbing album. Sheppard sums up their approach: ‘Improvise, write it down, develop it, then replay the tune with fresh improvisation: a trio libero.’
This mix of spontaneity and familiarity infuses everything the trio play with improvisational tension, each player (as in many ECM productions) clearly having a firm grasp on the outline of each piece, but able to plot his own highly distinctive and original path within it. The resultant (largely rubato) music incorporates not only Sheppard’s great strengths – a sure ear for an affecting melody, a sculptural approach to his saxophones’ sound, an ability to move seamlessly between freedom and structure – but also Benita’s extraordinary versatility and Rochford’s uncanny ability to choose precisely the right cymbal/skin stroke to push the music along and subtly embellish the band sound.
The overall effect will perhaps remind many ECM aficionados of Paul Motian’s various albums for the label, but Trio Libero’s strength comes from the grace and elegance with which three utterly distinctive talents have been able to gel to form a unit that consistently lives up to its name.
Trio Libero will be touriing in the UK in May / ECM Records