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Album Review

The self-titled debut recording by Trio Libero features the acoustic collective of saxophonist Andy Sheppard, bassist Michel Benita, and drummer Sebastian Rochford. The group's name comes from a concept as stated by Sheppard: "Improvise, write it down, develop it, then replay it with fresh improvisation: a trio libero." This is how 12 of the set's 13 tunes were created; some of them were initially recorded during a four-day improv session in 2009 and redone for this recording, while other ideas are brand-new. Trio Libero reveals a truly adventurous group playing melodically improvised tunes that feel like formal, complete compositions; yet they move so much in their brief time frame — all but one tune here is between three and five minutes — they cannot be anything but. This set uses sometimes the smallest of sonic fragments to weave into emotionally resonant and musically sophisticated statements. On "Slip Duty," where a seemingly haphazard mercurial head by Sheppard and Benita unfolds and disappears almost immediately, Rochford's drums break less than a minute in, and start shifting time frames and phrasing. When Sheppard and Benita return, they have moved into a harmonic exploration of the various rhythmic patterns stated by Rochford. "Dia da Libertade" begins with a bass solo, stating fragments that become a theme before the rest of the trio enters. Sheppard uses three low-register notes on tenor, before taking it up the horn and playing right at the bass notes, while Rochford colors it with gorgeous cymbals. The two parts of "Spacewalk" are tender, almost hesitant, due to Sheppard's long notes and the bowed bass of Benita. They're mournful but hardly sad; on the second part, Sheppard moves to his high register and manages to wrench the most emotion from a precious few carefully placed notes. All the while, Rochford is playing his own inner-logic rhythms that add another layer of lyricism. The lone standard here, "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," while unmistakable with Sheppard on soprano, is also stretched to fit the group's aesthetic. Closer "When We Live on the Stars..." carries within it a ghostly familiar yet otherworldly original lyrical line that could be an extrapolation of a timeless pop tune. The way Benita and Rochford sparingly and intuitively illustrate his melody creates a collective shimmering effect. As a label, ECM is no stranger to fine melodic improvisation from groups — Jan Garbarek's more folkish and modal brand immediately comes to mind. However, the short, taut execution in each track by Trio Libero on this deceptively active offering points to a new model, one whose focus is finding new ways to illustrate — via restraint — seemingly soft ambiguous sounds as lyric possibilities. They succeed in spades.


Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '90s, '00s

One of the more intriguing and versatile British musicians, Andy Sheppard has on occasion made a big impression in the United States. He did not start playing music until he was 19 and planning to go to art college; a listen to John Coltrane's recordings changed the direction of his life. Within three weeks Sheppard was playing in public, but quite a few years of scuffling followed as he learned his craft and developed his own sound. In 1986, Sheppard won a jazz competition and was signed to the...
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Trio Libero, Andy Sheppard
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