Trio Libero 90 as reviewed in Phantom TollboothThere is an easy warmth to these beautiful minimalist tone poems built around Sheppard’s sax.

Label: ECM
Time: 13 tracks / 52 minutes

The CD versus vinyl debate has quietened down now, but it is sparse, tone-rich works like this that make me so glad that we now have click- and scratch-free digital recording. This one is so restrained and exposed that I almost expect to hear a cough, a sniff or a distant door closing.

The trio comprises Andy Sheppard on tenor and soprano saxes, Michel Benita on double bass and relative newcomer Sebastian Rochford (Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland) on drums, and it is the latter that has the hard job of finding a place for his instrument among such languid pieces.

Benita has an easier time of it. He has a solo only 90 seconds into the disc and can either play against Sheppard’s lead or bow harmonic-sounding mood notes.

Sometimes these tracks are so slow and ambient that they almost stop. “Spacewalk, Parts 1 & 2” are a case in point, their long, drawn out sax notes giving Benita the chance to feature. “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” the only work not written by a trio member or built from improvisation, is another, its delicate moments slowing the heart rate.

Ironically, a track called “Land of Nod” is one of the liveliest and most memorable, its two-part theme sounding like a classical line and played largely over a marching snare from Rochford.

In between, Benita’s only composition “Ishadatami” draws sinuous lines from Sheppard and gives Rochford some pace to work with; while “Whereveryougoigotoo” is probably the most gently lyrical on a disc full of fluid movement.

A few may find these works a little too directionless, but many will treasure the beauty of Sheppard’s breathy tone and the gorgeous feeling of calm that it all leaves behind.


Derek Walker