Trio Libero's Andy Sheppard takes time out in Toulouse to talk about his latest jazz project, ahead of a performance at the Howard Assembly Room.
• How did the name “Trio Libero” come about?
Every time you start a new project you have to come up with a new name and it's often the hardest thing. I was trying to find a name that was going to describe the way I wanted to make music with this band. My initial idea was to get everybody just to improvise and then to record these improvisations. We were working in a very free way as a trio and with “libero” being the italian the word for free, Trio Libero seemed the perfect name.
• If I asked you to describe the Trio Libero project in three words what would they be?
Open. Interesting. Musics.
• You've played in trios before such as “Inclassifiable”. What made you decide you wanted Michel Benita and Sebastian Rochford to join you on the record?
I handpicked the musicians in a very natural way. Me and Michel go back a long way although we've rarely played with each other for the last twenty years. All three of us did a project on Serge Gainsbourg when I was artist in residence at a festival in Normandy. That was the first time that Michel and Seb played together. They really hit it off and I could see that – they were both intrigued by each others musicality. I thought it'd be great to do a trio and here we are now.
I only found out recently but when Seb was younger his mother brought him to one of my gigs. There was moment in that gig where he thought “this is the kind of music I need to be playing”. He said his mum dragged him into the dressing room all embarrassed and years later we're on the road together. When I lived in Paris I played with Michel and it's taken this amount of time to come together again.
• Are you in France at the moment?
I am actually. I think so. Am I? Yes. Toulouse. I've been on tour for three weeks so I don't know what day it is, where I am... It's the usual thing.
• What are the trios greatest influences – musical or non musical.
We've been influenced by everything that's gone on. Many years ago I saw Paul Motian's trio in London at the ICA. There's a lot of Paul's approach to music. However, it's not really for me to say. I never consciously set out to say I'm going to model a particular band. It just kind of happens. You find the centre of gravity in what we all want to do and it seems very easy for us to all play together.
• Did you know Paul Motian?
I never played with Paul Motian but I knew him. He always used to laugh at me. I think I was the first Western musician ever to play in Mongolia. He found this very funny and used to say, “hey man, you've got to go all that way to get a gig?”
• Was there a particular concept for the album?
We did a bunch of gigs before we recorded. We did the initial workshopping period and then some gigs – exploring different avenues including a residency at Ronnie Scotts. I was trying to find what the strengths were - what would make the music strong and egoless. We did the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and that was a turning point, I completely changed the set order. The big question was, “would this work?”. It worked really well and I realised that this was the way forward with the band. I've done some albums where you've never even done a gig but this was just the way it was. Before we got in to the studio I wrote to everyone and said, “we've got a good vibe here – the music is challenging but accessible. We're not going into the studio to prove ourselves, we're they're to be a servant to the music.” You begin with silence and then the music comes into the room and things start happening.
• How do you find playing in a group without a harmony instrument – do you find yourself exploring more unexpected avenues?
Yes. The funny thing is that sometimes it's open harmony but a lot of the tunes that started out with improvisation, I then went on to harmonise. So often we are playing over changes and I think that comes out on the record – hopefully it sounds more than just saxophone, bass and drums.
• Finally, what are your most and least favourite things about being on tour?
My favourite thing, just playing amazing music. Airports are my least favourite thing, they're a drag. Unless it's Munich airport - that's a pretty good one. Travelling through airports is a nightmare as a musician.
Trio Libero is Andy Sheppard (saxophone), Michel Benita (bass) and Sebastian Rochford (drums). They perform at the Howard Assembly Room on Thursday 10 May. For more information on this event, click here.
Photo: Trio Libero by Malcolm Watson