Ameranouche features Richard “Shepp” Sheppard and Jack Soref on French acoustic guitars, with Sheppard playing lead and Soref strumming rhythm. Michael Harrist rounds out the trio on bass and together they play what Sheppard refers to as “musical laughter.” The group has released three albums, “Homage A Manouche” in 2006, “Awake” in 2009, and their latest, “Des Histoires Simples” in 2011, which Sheppard sees as the latest extension of an ever-growing creation.
“Like the name implies (the album) is about the simple things in life,” said Sheppard. “Stories of the connective commonalties we all share: Family, friends, love, and dreams. This album allowed us players to move out a little bit more musically, and the idea in my mind is that you put music out and you want people to enjoy it, but you also want to grow the music.”
The trio’s name is a simple combination of their American jazz background, and the style of music they like to play. Gypsy jazz is often referred to as Manouche jazz, and finds its origins in France where Rienhardt developed and popularized the style characterized by its swing and waltz incarnations as well as the speed with which the lead guitar rips up and down the frets. Ameranouche focuses their style on Sinti, which is the Dutch school of gypsy jazz. They were the first gypsy jazz group to play at the Newport Jazz Festival, where they’ve won two “Best of New Hampshire” awards.
Their 2011 release, “Des Histoires Simples,” showcases the diverse styles involved with gypsy jazz. The album begins with “Big Ben,” a composition dedicated to the late original Ameranouche bassist Ben Wood. It opens with an upright bass line that thumps along at first but melts into the background as Sheppard comes in, revving his guitar up like an engine before unleashing a barrage of notes. Sheppard charts out a new course on his strings each time Soref’s rhythm guitar hits the turnaround. The song just refuses to sit down.
“Des Histoires Simples” includes a series of waltzes, tangos, and swing songs that make you want to dance, but also make you want to sit and listen so as not to miss any changes. Two of the album’s best compositions are ‘Tzigane” and “Sweet Senses Life.” The former is a swinging tune that Sheppard takes much liberty on, while Soref’s rhythm gives the tune great direction through its various mood changes. The latter is a relaxing and bluesy tune. The album ends with “Anouman” a fitting tribute to Rienhardt.
Based out of Bethel, NY, the band is currently working on a new album, which Sheppard refers to as not just songs, but a symphonic collection of movements. They are currently scheduled to appear all over the Northeast including a show with jazz guitarist Pat Martino in Pennsylvania, before they head west for a tour in California, then to the South.
Sheppard says originality is the key to gypsy jazz. “I don’t want to just copy things to make money,” said Sheppard. “I’m interested in the artistic aspect of putting out music so that it makes things better. It’s not about ‘look at me, aren’t I wonderful,’ but ‘look at this, isn’t this wonderful?’”
“I’m really interested in wealth in that I’m interested in sharing in someone else’s wealth and that’s not necessarily money. When someone says to me that they used one of my tunes for their wedding ceremony, I feel like I’m part of their lives and that I have wealth.”
Ameranouche’s show at Apres Vous on Thursday, February 21, begins at 8:30 pm.