Andy Sheppard ‘Surrounded by Sea’ (ECM) 4/5

andy-sheppardIn his previous two albums for ECM, saxophonist Andy Sheppard focused on work with Trio Libero. However, for this new recording he has chosen a new format and one that provides an understated, yet nonetheless layered texture with the use of guitar from Norwegian musician Eivind Aarset. Double bassist Michel Benita and drummer Seb Rochford complete the cosmopolitan line-up on a terrific set of originals that takes in pared down musical landscapes, Scots Gaelic tradition courtesy of Julie Fowlis, and even manages a cover from that fine contemporary singer-songwriter, Elvis Costello. A sparse virtual duet performance between saxophone and guitar on ‘Impossiblity of Silence’ sets the atmospheric scene beautifully and provides the perfect riposte to those who have been unnerved by the guitar orchestrations. In fact the closeness of the pair’s interaction hints at Sheppard’s collaborative work with Gil Evans and that influence has remained with the latter serving as an important mentor. The contribution of Aarset is both gentle and understated and this lends something of a folk air to proceedings. No more so than on the three-part ‘Aoidh, Na dean cadal idir’ which is in fact a traditional number from Uist and one that he learnt from folk singer extraordinaire Julie Fowlis. A delightful reading of Costello’s ‘I want to vanish’ is the only non-original not to be composed either by the leader, or in tandem with other band members. Andy Sheppard has recently been on tour with Italian pianist Rita and, if their live performance broadcast on Radio 3 is anything to go by, a live CD of their current tour is surely a priority.

Tim Stenhouse