One of the UK's best loved tenor players teams up with floaty fusion guitar stylist.
Ian Latham 2003-03-31
Andy Sheppard is a curious voice in the British jazz world. From the late eighties until fairly recently, he's barely been out of the spotlight with high profile tours and record releases. However, for me at least, the quality of his music never quite matched all the attention; there were many finer players on the scene but somehow Sheppard went on getting all the work. The influence of Serious, the UK jazz world's dominant management agency who have backed Sheppard's career for years, should neither be underestimated for their effect on the market, nor over relied upon for their artistic judgement.
Sheppard's partner on this recording is guitar wizard John Parricelli, a man who has been close to the forefront of creative British jazz for about two decades. He's a sensitive and versatile player who provides excellent support. His delicate touch, tasteful harmonic sensibility and rhythmic ease are responsible for setting much of the album's mood which is quiet, relaxed and perfectly suits the intimacy of the duo format. The absence of bass or percussion leaves space for the finest nuances in both the guitar and saxophone sounds.
At one level, the story of jazz has been one of constant technical revolutions that have enriched the language as a whole. From Charlie Parker's harmonic substitution innovations, the modal techniques of Miles Davis and George Russell to Steve Coleman's M-Base technologies, it is now an integral part of the art form that players aspire to take the music forward and contribute to the language. By contrast, almost all of the melodies here are built on the major, the most boring of scales.
Together with the complete avoidance of swing and an unadventurous rhythmic sensibility, this total disengagement with the richness of jazz language results in a music that's closer to easy listening or pop than most of jazz, which on the whole embraces intelligence at the expense of rendering it inaccessible to the mainstream. So perhaps Sheppard's prominence on the UK scene is actually further evidence of a country with an unsophisticated ear for jazz...
At the same time however, Sheppard isn't a Wynton Marsalis styled 'keeper of the tradition'. This latest record finds him in yet another unfamiliar musical setting.The saxophonist's musical path is one that freely borrows from a diverse range of inspirations, but there is a real feeling that he has watered down the musical content here. The melodies are catchy, but only in that insipid way in which they stick in your head and displace more satisfying musical memories.
For those who don't look too deep into their music, this album will provide pleasant listening or at least unobtrusive musical wallpaper. But those who find Kenny G a little inane for their liking might be forgiven for finding similar qualities in Andy Sheppard's music.