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05/21/12

Andy Sheppard/Michael Benita/Sebastian Rochford
Trio Libero

Freedom, in the context of jazz, can often mean anarchy, a complete break from structure and restraint. But for the trio of saxophonist Andy Sheppard, bassist Michael Benita and drummer Sebastian Rochford, freedom—which recurs, in various Italian forms, in the track listing—apparently suggests not chaos but release, a feeling of blissful transcendence.
Throughout their ECM debut, the threesome conjures a delicate, almost fragile sound, one that threatens to dissipate at the slightest disturbance. Though nearly half of the album’s 13 tracks are credited to all three, there is nonetheless a sense of restrained craftsmanship in the construction of each piece. None bear the traces of assertive escalation often born of free improvisation; instead, the music seems the result of each member painstakingly adding the most minimal of touches to the whole.

The disc’s lone standard, “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” provides something of a key to the trio’s approach. Sheppard’s tenderly aching soprano trades the melody with Benita’s wistful bass; their approach to this dreamer’s anthem focuses less on the optimism of the chase than on its bittersweet futility. Rochford’s brushwork keeps the pursuit aloft, however, sustaining a weightless feeling akin to another ECM vet, the late Paul Motian.

The two-part “Spacewalk” lives up to its name, evoking the sensation of floating free of the atmosphere. The first part begins with breathy tenor and arco bass echoing as if blown in on the wind down deserted streets; the second is, if anything, even more elusive and alluringly distant. The just-beyond-the-horizon feel is sustained throughout, with “When We Live on the Stars …” ending the album with ellipses in title and sound, lending not closure but the suggestion of a continuing exploration.

Originally published in May 2012
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