Can you have convivial jazz? I should say you can have any adjectival music you care to describe, especially jazz with its expansive range, but for this review my naming is set up by the prelude to attending this fine show by the warm welcome and meal I enjoyed before travelling into Bristol. My thanks to our hosts for the early evening where a most pleasant dinner and company segued so precisely into a most pleasant performance from Sheppard and band.
Pleasant is seemingly faint praise for a jazz gig, but when I attach the other descriptors of mellow, pretty, soft, breathy and melodic to what could be a longer totally positive list, you’ll get the gist and link to convivial. This was a performance based in melody and gentle delivery overall, Sheppard’s breathy sax playing setting up each song to grow into the fuller playing, with Eivind Aarset’s guitar and electronics providing often ambient landscapes to the whole, and also including a lovely echoplex-esque a la John Martyn accompaniment to a signature song of the night based as it was on three notes, according to Sheppard, sung by a bird in his garden, assuming he wasn’t telling us a magpie. This also reminded of JM and Sheppard’s accompaniment to the gorgeous My Creator on The Cobbles album.
Michel Benita on bass provided tight mirrorings of melodic lines in most of the songs, and in one he also established and sustained a great riff that livened up the pace – a little. Indeed, those wanting a rip-up of notes might have been disappointed, but that wasn’t the case with me. There was one song near the end where Aarset demonstrated the wonderful growl and argument of his electronics, and Sheppard did run some speedy rise and falls around this. Sebastian Rochford on drums was a precise anchor throughout, often dancing around his cymbals.
Most of the beautiful songs played last night were from Sheppard’s upcoming album Romaria due for release in January 2018. I do look forward to that. It will have its own nuances, no doubt, but I can’t imagine it capturing the finesse of Sheppard’s playing live – the sweet shifts into higher octaves when he plays, especially in the gentleness of it all, is sublime. As my aural companion on the night said at one point in the performance, playing at such a pace and relative calm requires great skill.
This skill and pleasing/pleasant/palpable control was most evident in the sweet surprise of the band’s encore, a calming, convivial cover of The Beatles’ And I Love Her. A lovely end to a lovely gig.