Think globally, act locally

Andy Sheppard | Pizza Express Jazz Club London
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The Independent Culture

We knew this was going to be special as soon as the melody of "A Natural Calling" opened up Andy Sheppard's five-night residency at Pizza Express on Wednesday. As the leader's soprano sax hinted at something more urgent behind its pastoral feel, the sound of his group pulsed behind him. It was a telling moment, seeming to suggest they could play it hot or cool or anywhere in between.

We knew this was going to be special as soon as the melody of "A Natural Calling" opened up Andy Sheppard's five-night residency at Pizza Express on Wednesday. As the leader's soprano sax hinted at something more urgent behind its pastoral feel, the sound of his group pulsed behind him. It was a telling moment, seeming to suggest they could play it hot or cool or anywhere in between.

"Sugar Beach Hotel" followed, with Sheppard's soprano locked together with John Parricelli's guitar. It was like two tumblers spilling through the air, as Steve Lodder pulled a range of sounds from his synth-marimba, pipe organ, steel drums. And when Parricelli soloed, the group really rocked.

You realise how carefully chosen it all is. The rich metal and wood of Chris Laurence's bass. The range of tones Paul Clarvis gets from his tiny drum kit and gongs, rattles and bells. The tapping and echoing of Kuljiyt Bharma's tabla. The group is about sounds, each with its own purpose.

They do "Almost Sophia", and comparisons with Jan Garbarek spring to mind. There's a very different muse at play here, but there's that same attention to textures and timbres. "Sophia" is one of Sheppard's strongest tunes, with a feel that spans from the Baltic to the Bosporus.

"Looking for Ornette" is next - "We don't always find him but we have fun looking". It's their most abstract piece but its off-centre theme echoes throughout its featured drum and guitar battle and, ironically, this again emphasises the importance of composition to the group. They close the first set with "Learning To Wave", the ghostly, beautiful title track from Sheppard's 1998 album.

The second set opens with "Dancing Man and Woman". Imagine that couple dancing, oblivious to all those around them, and you'll get a sense of its feel. "Oscar and Lucinda" is kind of Andy Sheppard-meets-Stan Getz with its Latin rhythms and style. But it was with Lodder's "Take Take" that things really opened up. The writer took a remarkable solo before the band came in on this tango with more than a hint of the eastern Mediterranean.

They follow with "Eduardo Goes Shopping" and close with "Bye Bye". "Eduardo" has a strong whiff of the Argentine about it, while the latter has a West African lilt. So far, we'd travelled the globe, with only the Far East unexplored. A truly breathtaking journey.

Andy Sheppard is writing and playing the most beautiful music of his career. And he also now has the group to do him justice.

Andy Sheppard plays Pizza Express, Dean Street, W1 (020-7439 8722) tonight, tomorrow and Sunday as part of a Provocateur Records season. He is followed on Monday by John Parricelli and by Annie Whitehead on Tuesday

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