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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
ANDY SHEPPARD QUARTET Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London
June 24th 2006
Apparently some people will do anything they can to stay at home watching football on the TV, even if it means enduring moments like English soccer pundit Mark Lawrenson horribly abusing the work of the great Nick Lowe – “Well John, look at Beckham, he doesn’t know if it’s New York or New Year”. Ouch! I’m the opposite. I’ll do anything to avoid it – even if it means eating Pizza, on this occasion an ‘American hot’, which I don’t think came from America, and which certainly wasn’t very hot. But the music, the real temptation that saw us walking the soccer-fan saturated streets of Soho, was (on second thoughts if you do have to watch international soccer on television, then go to Soho’s Bar Italia to see the Azzurri –it doesn’t get any hotter).
Not that we could entirely escape the great game even in the mellow smoke filled Pizza Express Jazz Club – star turn Andy Sheppard lost his band at the start of the set (“we’ll play these while we’re waiting for the rhythm section to get back from watching the football in the pub”), and someone had even laid in a little competitive footballing treat in the men’s lavatories for those blokes who’d been dragged out under protest.
Sheppard is widely regarded as one of the most celebrated British saxophonists and composer (‘though Serge, I note that he chose to hone his skills in your wonderful Paris) with an unrivalled pedigree of both solo work and collaborations with artistes such as Gil Evans and Carla Bley – actually if you bother to look at his biography you’ll see that the list is almost endless. I saw in some of the pieces I read preparing for this that some critics deem him too easy, too accessible, not sufficiently complex to deserve real jazz credibility. Well I say, “why make things too difficult if they don’t need to be”. Sheppard’s playing is melodic and tuneful (so he prefers his major keys to his minors), deeply soulful, wonderfully structured, not without wit, and certainly complex and challenging enough for his audience tonight.
It’s not a bad thing that he’s joined by guitarist John Parricelli, a veteran of 80’s band Loose Tubes (whose name I seem to recall), who is everything to the guitar that Sheppard is to the saxophone. To be honest I had some reasonable expectation of how good Sheppard might be, but not of how accomplished Parricelli was.

'P.S.'
Andy Sheppard
and John Parricelli
The two began with three pieces from the 2003 album PS – the first two, ‘Reveries’ and ‘Glencarron’ (which if it isn’t a cheap own label malt whisky, certainly should be) were quite folk like, with Parricelli on acoustic guitar (though being helped out by a few of his numerous pedals and boxes). The third, ‘Les Mains d’Alice’ brought on the electric guitar which Parricelli played for the rest of the evening, and a thrilling chorus effect that he frequently used during the set. With the rest of the band back from the boozer – Dudley Phillips on bass and Nic France on drums – (both longstanding collaborators with Sheppard and veterans of the London jazz scene, who can be found playing on Phillip’s thought-provokingly titled album, Life Without Trousers) they run into the first of a number of standards (I couldn’t help thinking they all sounded a bit like ‘Luck be my lady’, but to be honest I’m not as up on my jazz as I should be).
Sheppard and Parricelli improvised fluently and swapped solos all night, and whilst there was one sudden moment of ‘free form’ (even the waiters looked alarmed) we were never far away from deeply rhythmical and melodic grooves, with odd echoes of Wayne Shorter, Bill Frisell, and even, I swear, the Allman Brothers on the penultimate ‘Scream’. However the high point of the evening had to be Sheppard’s soprano solo in the second half, as he ran through scales and half scales with the speed and accuracy of one of Parricelli’s loop boxes. It went on so long that it had the feel of showboating, but in the taxi home my son explained that this was a virtuoso display of what brass players know as continuous or circular breathing. And the evening ended almost back where we started – “we’re going to leave you with a folk song – something for you to chew on”.
Well of course I was still chewing on my pizza, but I’d enjoyed the music so much I’d hardly noticed. Musicianship of the highest quality. And whilst I know Serge has his own favourites I would urge you to go out and buy Sheppard and Parricelli’s wonderful PS, and check out the tour dates on Sheppard’s website, he’s worth going to see no matter what you have to eat. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate and Nick)



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