“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,” says Andy Sheppard of the formation of Trio Libero. In addition to the tenor and soprano saxophones of Sheppard, the trio includes Michel Benita (double-bass), and Sebastian Rochford (drums). The unorthodox method of seeing just how well the three meshed together paid off, as is evident from their self-titled ECM debut recording. The 14 songs that make up Trio Libero show a strong affinity for the history of jazz, as well as the freedom the music offers them as well. The album also attests to just how well these three musicians can play, both individually and together.
Throughout the album, Sheppard’s sax leads the way. His sound is by turns melancholy and bright, depending on the mood of the song at hand. Sheppard’s willingness to share the spotlight is evident right from the beginning as well. The opening track on Trio Libero is “Libertino.” After the melody has been established, the double-bass of Michel Benita steps into the solo spotlight for an extended turn. “Slip Duty” is the next track, and it is the drums of Sebastian Rochford which are highlighted with a nice solo midway through.
The true spirit of Trio Libero is first shown on the third cut, which happens to be the only tune not written by the members of the group itself. This is the standard “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” and it provides a marvelous opportunity for all three musicians to show just how well they play together. Sheppard’s sax takes the lead, while the bass and drums support him in a most appropriate way. It also becomes clear that the group is most comfortable in the ballad form, which demands a very high degree of cooperation between the players. All must be highly attuned to each other to make this work.
And work it does. There are some fun experimental moments, but none of them are put in to merely show off, nor do they distract from the basic vibe of the album. A good example is the opening of “Land of Nod.” The beginning of this track is a very funky drum exercise from Rochford, which later mutates into a nearly martial beat. He keeps it light though, and when Sheppard’s soprano saxophone comes in to “tell the story” of “Land of Nod,” the effect is magical.
Trio Libero is a fine example of just how strong a pared down, highly intuitive and fully collaborative trio of musicians can sound. They bring to mind the ambience of smoky nightclubs and 3:00 a.m. “magic hours” of days gone by, but with a modern take. Their debut is a wonderful reminder of just how good this music can be, and is recommended.