Happily, his new quartet is perhaps his most comfortable context yet. Accompanied by his regular partner Steve Lodder on piano, with Dudley Phillips on double-bass, and the wonder drummer Mark Mondesir, Sheppard has at last made a group in his own image: an eclectic, compulsively tuneful and mainly acoustic band with whom his most abiding virtues are able to flourish. As a soloist, Sheppard excels in short, intense, bursts, where his tight phrasing and unfailingly musical sound create a mixture of the best elements of the American and European traditions. He can, if necessary, blow up a storm, but the tone of his horn is usually pitched at a mellifluous angle where the effects are thoughtful and hard-won rather than pulverisingly obvious. In one number, a careful contrast between a soft, South African lullaby and intersecting blasts of free jazz mayhem demonstrated the book- ends of his style most effectively.
Playing before a packed audience at his local pub (the Albert Inn), for a television series to be hosted by Miles Kington, the performance was relayed on a monitor to the pub's lounge for the benefit of the crowd. Even in the quietest moments of a bass solo, those there for the lager alone remained silent. Though the saxophone may now have nothing to sell but itself, Sheppard's playing still casts a powerful spell n
Andy Sheppard plays Ronnie Scott's, W1 to Sat (0171-439 0747), moving to Ronnie Scott's, Birmingham, 22-25 Jan (0121-643 4525). His and Steve Lodder's new album, `Moving Image', is available on VerveReuse content