Trio Libero: Andy Sheppard Interview

Photo credit:  Daniel Vass/ECM

Trio Libero (Andy Sheppard/ Michel Benita/Seb Rochford) are at Purcell Room next Wednesday.

The name which Andy Sheppard chose for this trio is no accident, he told me. ”I’ve always been interested in improvised music.” citing the (hard-to-obtain) duo album “66 Shades of Lipstick” which he made with Keith Tippett more than 20 years ago.

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“I love the approach. It’s refreshing to jump into void.” But he doesn’t under-estimate the challenge: “The moments of brilliance can be few and far between. And I also want to make it accessible.”

How did Trio Libero get started? It grew out of residencies/collaborations at the Jazz Sous Les Pommiers Festival in Coutances. Then “We had the opportunuty to go to Snape, just the three of us and a sound engineer, and just improvise. Seb and Michel got on well. It was easy to come up with ideas [The sessions] produced a wealth of material, which I went through systematically, extracted melodic fragments and ideas, put them into frameworks,  to be worked into full-blown improvisations.”

I mentioned a gig during the early 2011 three night stint at Ronnie Scott’s. which I reviewed: “Ronnies was at the beginning . We were trying to get handle on what we were doing at that time.”

Sheppard says the breakthrough came a few months later, at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival. “Cheltenham was a turning point. I planned a mixed set, but we did something courageous. I realised that we could improvise, play with grace, feeling, openness, get to the core of things, hang on and be much more fluid with tempo and metre. We knew we had found our centre.”

The story of the recording is also intersting. Michel Benita has written in an interview with Stephane Ollivier in Jazz Magazine/Jazzman (my translation):

“When we arrived in Lugano, at this small auditorium with incredibly limpid sound, and began recording with Manfred Eicher, I had a very strong impression of completeness, of having come full circle. When he asked us to play completely acoustically, without headphones or any kind of amplification, in the set-up for a concert, in the first instance it added to the pressure, but what resulted was so coherent and so organic that he was completely vindicated. When you choose to play acoustically like that, and when everyone plays the game collectively, unfussily [Benita uses the provencal expression “sans esbroufe”] , really listening to each other, and you just let the music emerge naturally from that process, the concentration level leads unfailingly to quality. Perhaps that is, in the end, the secret of ECM.”

Sheppard remembers: “Manfred made me play in different positions, moving me a few feet till he found the right spot. Then he marked a cross on the stage. ‘Play there,’ he said. It’s old school, a wonderful thing . We didn’t count in, there was hardly any mixing.”

Chris Parker reviewed the CD for LondonJazz :

“They achieved an ease of interaction based on hair-trigger sensitivity to each other’s playing that is apparent throughout this thoroughly absorbing album […]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.”

Of course, Sheppard does have other projects. When I spoke to him he had just got back from touring in Italy with pianist Rita Marcotulli and the fabulous accordionist Gianluca Biondini (review of Marcotulli/ Biondini here). He also gets invited to do saxophone massives as community projects. And there is touring with Carla Bley. Sheppard, Bley and Steve Swallow are in fact, Sheppard told me, due to record a trio album to be produced by Eicher, in the same studio in Lugano where Trio Libero recorded.

But Sheppard is treating Trio Libero as his main creative focus. As he told me succinctly: “We’ve got something special here”.

UK Tour Dates:

LONDON Southbank Centre / Purcell Room Wednesday 21 March 2012, 7:45pm

SOUTHAMPTON Turner Sims Thursday 22 March 2012, 8:00pm

BRISTOL St. George’s Friday 23 March 2012, 8:00pm

GATESHEAD The Sage Gateshead / Hall One Saturday 24 March 2012, 7:30pm

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