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Andy Sheppard Quartet: Romaria (ECM)

Review of album by British saxophonist and composer

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Cover of Andy Sheppard Quartet album Romaria
Cover of Andy Sheppard Quartet album Romaria

It was producer Manfred Eicher’s clever idea to bookend this album with two takes of the same tune, “Forever and a Day,” a slow ballad written by the saxophonist-bandleader. Toward the end of take one, labeled “And a Day…,” Sheppard lets out a long, keening high note, an expression of deep vulnerability. On take two, or “Forever…,” he seems to answer that statement with a gruff note of acceptance down near the bottom of his range, more breath than pitch. Whether he’s playing tenor (as on these two tracks) or soprano, Sheppard likes to keep his volume at medium-low. But although he maintains a thoroughly English reserve, there’s plenty under the surface: romance, dry wit, tenderness and, above all, a questing spirit.

He’s found some wonderful colleagues to help him with his search. Guitarist Eivind Aarset never takes a conventional solo, leaning instead on heavily effected volume-swell chords that create a ghostly atmosphere, like a far-off cello section. This timbral choice pushes bassist Michel Benita to the fore, and he makes the most of it, contributing some gorgeously articulated upper-register melodies. Meanwhile, drummer Sebastian Rochford maintains a creative pulse throughout, getting most worked up during the subtly driving “They Came From the North.”

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