Close your eyes and drift: here's another relaxing, elegant, melodic and atmospheric release from the stylish saxophonist’s ensemble.

Label: ECM Records
Time: 8 tracks / 48 mins

A few weeks ago, looking for something instrumental and relaxing to go with a word game, I spotted Andy Sheppard’s previous release Surrounded by Sea, and put it on the player. It was even better than I remembered.

Very much in the same vein, this disc features Sheppard’s tenor and soprano saxes drifting along at a languorous pace. Titles to the bookending tracks “And a Day” and “Forever” clearly suggest a link and they are essentially two different takes of the same piece, the most beautifully ambient on the collection.

What sets this band above regular, mpore anonymous saxophone ensembles is the emphasis that Sheppard gives to melody. There is very little noodling here and plenty of tunefulness to enjoy, even on the floaty pieces – and not least the title track (by Brazilian musician Renato Teixeira, the only one not by Sheppard). With its picked guitar lines (more of that later) it almost sounds like a standard. This is one place where Sheppard’s delicate phrasing often leaves his tone quivering like a Red Kite’s wing tip in a breeze.

“Pop” is a little brisker, but still mellow. It is one example of Seb Rochford’s drumming taking the rhythmic weight, allowing bassist Michel Benita to interact more with Sheppard on melodic lines. Benita also gets several short solo spots on tracks like “All Becomes Again” and the bookenders.

Only occasionally does the tempo accelerate – the frantic beginning to second track “Thirteen,” which soon calms down again, and driving “They Came from the North.”

Apart from this extra energy, where this differs from previous releases is the higher prominence given to guitarist Eivind Aarset, who was not part of the band when first formed under the name Trio Libero, and whose work up to now has largely been very subtle washes.

You actually notice him on this release. He warms the sound significantly with his shimmering electronica-like chords, fluid and streamlined by effects pedals (“Pop”); he plucks quietly on a couple of tracks; he shares melody lines with Sheppard and even gets a thin riff on “They Came from the North” (a tribute to his Norwegian heritage?).

He particularly features on “With Every Flower that Falls,” a re-working of a soundtrack that Sheppard created for a showing of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It was a romantic scene and this piece catches that tenderness.

Sheppard has called this his “dream band.” That may refer to the working relationships, which feel instinctive here, but it certainly applies to the atmospheric mood that they create.

Derek Walker