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Andy Sheppard Quartet, 'Surrounded By Sea,' ECM Records (REVIEW)

By Mike Greenblatt m.greenblatt@classicalite.com on Jul 10, 2015 05:23 PM EDT

Don't be put off by the ambient nature of British saxophonist Andy Sheppard's new quartet. He's added Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset to his existing Trio Libero, and for his third ECM CD, Surrounded By Sea, he's gone totally atmospheric and haunting. Drummer Seb Rochford has played with Herbie Hancock, Brian Eno and Patti Smith; French bassist Michel Benita with Archie Shepp, Dewey Redman and Joe Lovano.

Sheppard is something of an iconoclast. He interprets Elvis Costello's "I Want To Vanish" and jams long on the traditional Gaelic folk song, "Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idir." During the recording process of the latter, producer/label head/eccentric visionary Manfred Eicher motioned wildly from his booth for the quartet to keep playing for over 12 minutes. Eicher, known for his esoteric experimentation, wound up chopping it into three "movements," weaving it throughout the CD as a recurring theme. It works, giving the project an added oomph akin to a theatrical score.

Trio Libero is an improv act where gut trumps charts. New addition Aarset--with his droning mellifluousness--has, ironically, opened more space for Sheppard's alto and tenor. The sound is subtly layered with electronics and by the time we hit the closing tribute ("Looking For Ornette") to the recently fallen Ornette Coleman (recorded while he was still alive), a powerfully irresistible alchemy is achieved, one that actually makes the silence following the CD's end almost part of the experience. I wanted more so I played it twice. So will you.

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TagsREVIEW, Manfred Eicher, Andy Sheppard, ECM Records