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Trio Libero, St George’s, March 23

March 25, 2012

Breathtakingly good gig. Some of the reasons remain the same as held for the previous sighting of this trio in Cheltenham last year. This seemed better still. Maybe they have moved on. Certainly St George’s is an immeasurably better venue for music like this than Cheltenham’s soulless town hall. The interaction between the three – one of the principal pleasures of this kind of loosely improvised music – came across in more detail.

Not many tunes were named, as Andy Sheppard’s wry minimalism rules all of his announcements as well as much of his music. I guess most are on the new ECM recording, which I haven’t heard yet. But all of them sounded pretty great. The prevailing mood, as before, was a softly incisive lyricism, with occasional bursts of something much more assertive.

There is no outstanding player, which is as it should be in such a co-operative trio, and all perform with that hyper-alertness that tells you there is something special going on. Michel Bonita on bass had moments strongly reminiscent of Charlie Haden – folksy note choices, deep tone – and has such a wonderful sound St George’s might have been made for him. Sheppard was his excellent self – insinuatingly attractive on tenor, heart-aching on soprano. Hard to think of anyone else who plays the latter horn so compellingly. And Seb Rochford on drums completed the mix with a creative commentary of remarkably sustained sensitivity.

One thing which seemed clearer this time was how beautifully they blend influences from some of the finest jazz sources. The first tune could easily have been written by Ornette. Rochford conjures up Paul Motian as clearly as if he were present, but can summon the shade of Blackwell, too. The trio as a unit evoke good memories of Motian’s own trios, especially the ones with Joe Lovano – who Sheppard’s lines seem to echo now and again. The reflective Joshua Redman’s trio on Back East also came to mind more than once.

All in all, they combine much of the best of the chamber jazz of the last three or four decades, and make something new and quite entrancing out of it. This has to be one of the standout gigs of 2012.

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