|Andy Sheppard at Cafe Oto|
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved
Andy Sheppard / John Edwards / Eddie Prévost
(Cafe Oto, 27 June 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
There is a lyrical beauty to Andy Sheppard's playing which shone through in two glorious sets with leading lights of the jazz improvisation scene, percussionist Eddie Prévost and bassist, John Edwards, in the stripped-back intimacy of Cafe Oto.
Eddie Prévost, prominent improvising practitioner and theoretician, was the architect of this recital which kick starts a continuation of his live series of Meetings with Remarkable Saxophonists, that has to date involved John Butcher, Evan Parker, Jason Yarde and Bertrand Danzler, with bassists, including Edwards, completing the trio format. Each trio has been recorded and issued on CD by Prévost's Matchless Recordings label and the series will continue down at Eclectic in the autumn when he teams up with Trevor Watts.
Prévost recounted how he and Sheppard met thirty years ago, 'when we both had black hair!' and agreed that they should get together to perform, yet it had taken all that time to elapse and then a year to organise what is their first ever concert together - and being entirely improvised, Prévost, quietly confident of the trio's combined creativity, admitted he was not sure quite what might happen.
Pooling such a wealth of experience, talent and goodwill, any glimmer of uncertainty was brushed aside from the off. The trio gelled remarkably intuitively with poise, balance and fluidity, allowing space for Sheppard's softly focused lyricism to emerge on both soprano and tenor saxes, with Edwards and Prévost shaping a constantly mobile, yet structured ruckus at its foundation.
With Sheppard digging deep to offer streams of exquisite, melodic extemporisations, the trio's interplay took on the feel of an extended composition, with micro-niches of rhythmic and melodic statement emerging and evolving, all the more impressive for being 'on the fly'. Prévost's refined jazz chops and inventive powers were combined with understated authority to bring out brightly burnished beats, metallic rushes and low echoing resonances. Edwards, 'a force of nature', as Prévost described him, applied lateral thinking to his treatment of the stand-up bass, touching the end of the bow to the fingerboard, slapping not only the strings but also its body, and extracting, in contrast, the most delicate of tones and harmonics in response to Sheppard's spiritually-inflected phrasing and abstract excursions.
With the mix of a rhythmic groove that formed the core of a second set sequence and Sheppard's sustained high pitches, fluttering flights and drizzled deviations, flourishes of invention from all three continually refreshed the conversation to offer a most generous dialogue which, from the smiles of the performers and audience alike, hit the spot all round. And, it should be added, that it was a particular treat to see Sheppard in the low-key setting of Cafe Oto in such well-attuned company - with no frills, no distractions, and no formal expectations, very much in his element.