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Andy Sheppard: Surrounded by Sea

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Impressionistic yet suffused with piercing emotional clarity, veteran British saxophonist Andy Sheppard’s quartet recording Surrounded by Sea is one of the year’s most affecting albums. Guitarist Eivind Aarset, bassist Michel Benita and drummer Sebastian Rochford join Sheppard for a dozen tracks (half composed by the saxophonist) that, like the sea itself, marry titanic power with ineffable beauty.

Benita’s rhythmic pulse propels album-opener “Tipping Point,” Sheppard’s crystalline tenor pleading over Aarset’s symphonic electronic accents. The guitarist’s presence here is largely more about atmosphere than notes or melody, but he is also capable of stinging force. On the swelling “I See Your Eyes Before Me,” his blistering chords work in tandem with Rochford’s snare rolls and crashing cymbals to evoke the heart-stopping effect of love at first sight. The drummer’s work throughout is tasteful yet insistent, employing ticking march tempos with a touch like Sandburg’s fog on the pensively throbbing “Medication.”

As a composer, Rochford contributes the rhythmically askew “They Aren’t Perfect and Neither Am I,” while Benita’s sole composition, “A Letter,” features Sheppard’s soprano at its moodiest and most melancholy. The straight horn also gives the quartet’s rendition of Elvis Costello’s “I Want to Vanish” a soaring, lyrical spirit, and the album’s framework is provided by three takes on the traditional Gaelic song “Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idir,” powered by tense, driving tempos from Benita and Rochford. Surrounded by Sea is a recording that rewards deep listening and an open heart.

Originally Published