Andy Sheppard, Romaria (ECM)
The title tune, written and first recorded by the Brazilian Renato Teixeira, was made still more famous by the singer Elis Regina’s 1977 recording. It has been a beloved standard song in Brazil for four decades. British saxophonist Sheppard and his quartet hew to the spirits if not the letters of Teixeira’s and Regina’s versions. Guitarist Elvind Aarset manipulates electronics to create atmospherics that expand the quartet’s harmonies. If that raises warnings for jazz listeners bothered by digital enhancement, never fear. Aarset’s contributions do not muddy the sound; they color it in intriguing ways. That is true throughout the album’s eight tracks. Sheppard wrote all of the pieces except for the one by Teixeira.
Drummer Sebastian Rochford and bassist Michel Benita join Sheppard and Aarset in rhythmic looseness that never lapses into the lack of discipline that can mar this kind of relaxed playing. One can practically sense the four listening to one another. Their concentration is pronounced on “Thirteen,” with the force and crispness of Rochford’s drumming, near-offbeats in Benita’s bass lines and suggestions of eeriness in Aarset’s sensory sounds. As for Sheppard, on soprano and tenor saxophones he is the rhythmically assured and forceful soloist who has made major impressions over the years with Carla Bley on nearly a dozen of her albums and in solo assignments with George Russell and Gil Evans. He is impressive with the depth of his tenor sound and his lyricism in “With Every Flower That Falls” and “All Becomes Again.” His composition “Pop” does not pop. It floats on Sheppard’s tenor solo and the wave action of the unusual rhythm section.
Nicolas Masson Quartet, Travelers (ECM)
Affected by the adventurousness of experimental modern jazz and by operatic traditions that go as far back as the 1700s, the Swiss reed artist and composer Nicolas Masson uses his quartet to create soundscapes. With titles as abstract as the music, pieces like “Fuschia,” “Philae” and “Blurred” create peaceful moods that are occasionally roiled by interjections of rhythm from drummer Lionel Friedli and bassist Patrice Moret, separately or together. In the kaleidoscope of sound called “Philae” the quartet is compelling, in no small part because of Masson’s soprano saxophone intensity. On “Jura,” at first with only Moret’s accompaniment, Masson builds a tenor sax feature into a statement swelling into a cloud of sound that subsides only as the piece ends. Pianist Collin Vallon’s keyboard touch and dynamics are vital to the album’s success.
Shinya Fukumori Trio, For 2 Akis (ECM)
It would be interesting to hear Masson and tenor saxophonist Matthieu Bordenave together. Their tonal similarity might either blend into impressionist boredom or draw out competitive instincts. We’ll probably never know, but if ECM matched them, there could be surprises. Bordenave, the tenor player in Japanese drummer Shinya Fukumori’s trio, is French. The pianist, Walter Lang Junior, is German. There are Asian inflections in pieces like “Hoshi Meguri No Uta” and the modern Japanese standard “Ai San San.” That music is in contrast to the almost ballad-like reflection of some of the other pieces, notably two by Lang, “No Goodbye” and “When Day Is Done” (unrelated to the Victor Young song of the same title). Fukumori’s “Spectacular,” with his expressive drumming behind Lang’s piano, is a highlight. The album’s mixture of contemplative and active music of harmonic depth keeps it interesting.