Andy Sheppard Quartet - Romaria

Label: ECM, 2018

Personnel – Andy Sheppard: tenor and soprano saxophones; Eivind Aarset: guitar; Michel Benita: double bass; Sebastian Rochford: drums.

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With a penchant for the intimacy and the subtlety, British saxophonist Andy Sheppard, earned international reputation while playing with Gil Evans, George Russell, and Carla Bley. His new ECM album, Romaria, features experienced bandmates from early recordings: Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset, Algerian-born French bassist Michel Benita, and Scottish drummer Sebastian Rochford. 

The resplendent tones of the opening tune, “And a Day…”, a lyric ballad with sparse bass lines, non-intrusive yet weighty percussion, and sustained effect-drenched guitar chords, is one of those gifts from above. The mood gets pretty close to Mark Guiliana Quartet and his pop-jazz balladry. Sheppard’s command of the saxophone enables statements whose richness of language and sentiment are truly beautiful. Benita also excels on this one with an expressive solo and iterates his meditative sayings on the closing piece, “Forever…”, another dusky ballad with low-pitched airy notes.

Even infusing a bit more tension on “Thirteen”, the quartet creates an unfussy urban scenario. The groundwork consists of a nuanced bass pedal settled on top of sparkling cymbal rides and innocuous snare drum snarls, establishing the best conditions for Sheppard to express himself on the soprano, having Aarset’s atmospheric moves below.

The title track is a well-known Brazilian folk tune popularized by Elis Regina in 1977 and penned by Renato Teixeira. The intro shows the bassist and the saxophonist pairing up euphoniously while the understated textural work of guitar and drums is added later to assure that creamy consistency.

My favorite composition happens to be “Pop”, perhaps the simplest yet the most illuminated and forthright. Sheppard brings up a dazzling melody that finds its placement over the excellent accompaniment provided by the rhythm section.

They Came From the North” and “With Every Flower That Falls” take divergent directions since each counterpoint in the former hinges mystery, driving the drummer to meddle and respond effusively to the sax-guitar interplay, while the latter embarks on a sensuous romanticism.

Sheppard’s compositions and leadership reflect his experience as a musician. The pure, full-bodied timbre of his sax, diffusing favorable energy in an effortless way, fortifies the luxury of his impeccably layered compositions.

        Grade  A-

       Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - And a Day… ► 04 – Pop ► 05 – They Came From the North