Andy Sheppard Trio, St. George’s, Thursday 20th April

Andy Sheppard at St. George’s Bristol had a special glow to it on Thursday evening. Time was the joy of listening to the tenor maestro explore, mull, emote or simply have fun with a rotating cast of collaborators was a frequent occurrence in Bristol, with Andy a long-time resident. These days, it’s a rare delight following his move to Portugal. St. George’s was full and his greeting of ‘all right my lovers’ was met with an appreciative collective guffaw, to the visible perplexity of his latest partners Rita Marcotulli and Anders Jormin. If expectations were high, they were more than met by this new musical meeting of hearts and minds.

Marcotulli at the piano and Jormin on bass are dazzling virtuosi and improvisers on their instruments. What set the stage aglow from the start was the seamless interweaving and response between them and with Sheppard. The music written by Sheppard for this trio gave space for and demanded the interplay, and they seized the freedom. They segued between three tunes to start Elevation, Sagado, El Canto [at least I think that’s Andy muttered into the mic by way of introduction] moving between a richly coloured contemplative atmosphere, to a dancing, swirling piece with a hint of Iberian rhythms, to a gently jaunty melody against a chiming piano riff. All the elements that made this a special evening were there. Marcotulli’s fluency with harmony, responsives accompanying and darting rhythmically choppy and exciting improvising added light and shade, and a dissonant jazzy edge; Jormin seemed to anticipate and wrap snaking complementary lines around everything that was played, propelling the music as well as grounding it; Andy Sheppard himself with the warm, raspy sound that is instantly recognisable, sounded as fluent and lyrical as ever and reveling in the company.

On Draw You In Stars, Jormin’s arco bass took the melody, a glorious singing sound; This Too had a dancing folky flavour, dramatically darkened and given an edge by Marcotulli’s blocked chords and zig-zagging lines. In the second set they seemed to stretch out even more. On Big Willy, dedicated to Sheppard’s dog, there was a delightful loose feel as the bass and tenor played off each other. Sometimes they were content to let atmospherics and melody to work it’s magic. Some hairs-on-the-neck playing with harmonics by Jormin introduced Irene and a richly harmonised ballad.

The pleasure of rekindling the old acquaintance with Bristol aside, this new trio has an extra magic to it. Marcotulli’s harmonic language and exploratory approach at the piano combined with Jormin’s preternatural anticipation, responsiveness and fluency are great foil for the emotional and expressive playing of Sheppard. They evoked a raptuorous foot stomping response from the St George’s audience and I can’t have been the only person hoping they get in the recording studio soon.

Here’s Andy talking about the project a couple of years ago


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