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SHEPPARD, BENITA, ROCHFORD: TRIO LIBERO / ECM 2252                       player

Trio Libero, convened by UK saxophonist Andy Sheppard, proposes music of graceful lyrical invention and emotional depth. On the debut recording of this free-spirited group, freedom is extended to melodies given room to breathe and to grow. There is space in the music and independence for each of the players, space for individual expression, as well as the possibilities for dialogue and interaction at any moment. From the beginning of the trio association of Andy Sheppard, Michel Benita and Sebastian Rochford, all these options were evident. To explore the group’s creative potential and to develop repertoire, early in 2009 Sheppard set up a residency for the trio at Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh.

“I basically locked the trio in a room for four days and said let’s just improvise together, record everything and see what we come up with. I’d brought along some tunes as well, of course. This was the start of the band. We seemed to be able to improvise virtually complete tunes. Afterwards I just spent some time harmonizing and editing and so on.” Some of the material created at that first exploratory session would resurface on the ECM debut, recorded two years later (in July 2011) at Lugano’s Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera. The piece here titled "The Unconditional Secret", for instance, is “more all less a straight transcription of a free improv dating from the Aldeburgh residency.” A modus operandi was thus established: “Improvise, write it down, develop it, then replay the tune with fresh improvisation: a trio libero.”

If 2009 was the beginning of things, the musicians, individually, had been crossing paths over a much longer period. Michel Benita and Sheppard collaborated on occasional gigs in the 1980s, when Sheppard lived in Paris, meeting up again six years ago to tour with pianist Rita Marcotulli. Then Sheppard invited the bassist to join him in a project at the Coutances Jazz Festival in 2008. Headlined “Melody Gainsbourg”, it was a celebration of the music of chansonnier Serge Gainsbourg, and quite some distance from the present project. The drummer on the gig was Sebastian Rochford, making this the first occasion when all three players had been on the same stage at the same time. “Seb and Michel were clearly having a ball playing together, and that was when I started to think about the Trio Libero idea. I just felt that anything was possible with these guys.”

Already in 2002, Sheppard had approached Rochford after seeing him play at Ronnie Scott’s Club. “We did a few gigs over the years, but it wasn’t really until the Coutances project that we had a chance to work together more intensively.”

Active across a slew of genres as songwriter/composer and producer as well as exceptionally creative drummer, Seb Rochford has played with a boggling diversity of artists. Amongst them: Yoko Ono, Patti Smith, Herbie Hancock, Marc Ribot, David Byrne/Brian Eno, Stan Tracey, and the Britten Sinfonia under Joanna MacGregor. An early member of indie rock band Babyshambles, Rochford’s own groups and projects include Polar Bear, new band Jyager Bear - with MC Jyager, Pete Wareham and Shabaka Hutchings -, avant-garde rock trio Big Dave, electro-acoustic quartet Fulborn Teversham, and Silver Birch, the new line-up of the band formerly known as Acoustic Ladyland. Rochford’s interest in playing jazz was, he says, originally triggered by seeing an Andy Sheppard concert in his hometown of Aberdeen when he was 15 years old. He has cited the influence of Elvin Jones and Martin France on his development of a personal drum style that rarely lingers long on the ride cymbal.

All three band members are leaders, united in their open-mindedness. Algerian-born Michel Benita, who has played with some of the strongest names in jazz, had Dewey Redman in his first quartet alongside Rita Marcotulli and Aldo Romano. A 2008 album “Ramblin’” reflected a love of country music, bluegrass and folk. He has also collaborated with Japanese koto player Mieko Miyazaki, Vietnamese guitarist Nguyên Lê, and proto-rapper Jalal from the Last Poets. An internationalist at the heart of the French scene since the early 1980s, Benita honed his craft in the jazz clubs and concert halls of Paris playing with an extensive roll call of visiting players, expatriates and local musicians – the list includes Archie Shepp, Horace Parlan, Billy Hart, Joe Lovano, Bobo Stenson, Joe Diorio, Gordon Beck, Enrico Rava, Dino Saluzzi, Lee Konitz, Harold Danko, Jon Christensen, Nils-Petter Molvaer, Joshua Redman, Tom Harrell, Roy Haynes, Charlie Mariano, Peter Erskine, Kenny Wheeler, Steve Kuhn, Kenny Werner, Enrico Pieranunzi, François Jeanneau, Daniel Humair, Michel Portal, Toots Thielemans, Martial Solal, Michel Legrand, l'Orchestre de Lyon and many more.

The prodigiously gifted Andy Sheppard famously took up the saxophone at 19, inspired by Coltrane, and played his first gig with it three weeks later and was soon touring and recording with Bristol-based band Sphere. After a period in Paris where he worked with groups including performance art band Urban Sax, he returned to the UK in the mid-80s, recording the album “Andy Sheppard” for Antilles/Island, with Steve Swallow as producer, the beginning of a long musical association. Since then Sheppard has recorded for labels including Blue Note, Verve, Label Bleu and Provocateur and played and written trans-idiomatic music for ensembles of every size (his Saxophone Massive project has included 200 sax players) as well as for theatre, film, dance and mixed media. Collaborators over the years have ranged from Nana Vasconcelos to Han Bennink, from Joanna MacGregor to Keith Tippett, from L. Shankar to Kathryn Tickell. He has played with numerous key jazz artists, including the exceptional composers George Russell, Gil Evans and Carla Bley. Sheppard has recorded extensively with Carla Bley for the ECM-distributed WATT label and can be heard on her albums “Fleur Carnivore”, “The Very Big Carla Bley Band”, “Big Band Theory”, “Songs with Legs”, “The Carla Bley Big Band Goes to Church”, “‎4 x 4”, “Looking for America”‎, “The Lost Chords‎” ,“Appearing Nightly”, and ‎”The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu”.

Sheppard recorded his first ECM leader date in 2008. “Movements In Colour”, featuring an international line-up with John Parricelli and Eivind Aarset on guitars, Arild Andersen on bass, and Kuljit Bhamra on tabla, was warmly received by the press: “A subtle and well-balanced showcase … featuring music which is elegantly performed and sonically mellifluous. … Sheppard’s natural melodic sense and textural skills are in their element in a sequence of pieces which range from gentle folkiness and Latin lilt to a yearning, quasi-symphonic approach” (BBC Music Magazine).

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