Acoustic trio Ameranouche performs in Aztec
FARMINGTON – Even as a kid, when his friends were listening to mainstream rock ‘n’ roll and pop, Richard Sheppard’s music tastes were considerably more adventurous.
As a teen, Sheppard’s guitar heroes had nothing to do with playing the kind of thundering riffs that were designed to rattle an arena. They were innovative, virtuoso players — Chet Atkins, Joe Maphis and Roy Nichols — who worked primarily in the country style but were busy pushing the envelope of what that staid, conservative genre was willing to accept.
Then, to mix things up further, when Sheppard was 18, he first heard Django Rinehardt, the legendary Belgian-French musician famous for crafting an entirely new jazz guitar style despite having lost the use of two fingers on his left hand in a fire.
“It was like a lightning bolt,” Sheppard recalled last week while driving through Ohio with the other members of his band, Ameranouche, which performs this weekend in Aztec.
His appetite whetted, Sheppard said it wasn’t long before he started communicating with other musicians and music fans in Europe, and began exploring that style further.
Fast-forward many years later, and Sheppard and his associates in Ameranouche — guitarist Jack Soref, and bassist and vocalist Michael K. Harrist — are still in the mood to explore new musical territory, though they have fashioned a style of their own they call gypsy flamenco swing.
“The thing about Ameranouche is, we’re three guys who really enjoy each other’s company and three guys who really enjoy each other’s music,” Sheppard said. “We keep on raising the bar with each other and want to see our music executed better.”
Sheppard acknowledged that the band’s description of its music can be a little confusing to most listeners — until they actually hear the band play.
“It resonates with people when they hear the group — then, they get it,” he said. “Our songs are a platform for improvisation. They’re always the same, but they’re different. There’s a newness to them that helps us connect with people. We aspire to a celebration of humanity.”
That means Ameranouche performances are typically high energy and are designed to elicit an emotional response from listeners. When it’s all clicking, that heavy reliance on improvisation can help facilitate that lofty goal. But Sheppard laughed when he acknowledged that approach sometimes can be risky.
“A lot of times, we’re as surprised as anyone that it comes out OK,” he said.
They wouldn’t have it any other way. Ameranouche’s gypsy flamenco swing is “an ongoing study, an ongoing discovery,” Sheppard said. The band’s shows are anything but traditional.
“You won’t see one guy playing rhythm, one guy playing lead and a bass player just thumping along,” he said. “We all three improvise. We all try to be vibrant.”
The band’s most recent album, 2015’s “Sun Shine Soul” on the independent Red Squirrel Records label, may owe its sound to a variety of influences around the United States and Europe, but the songs are almost exclusively original, with covers of Melvin and Mervin Steals’ “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” and Rinehardt’s “Rythme Futur” being the only exceptions.
That emphasis on performing its own material is essential to the whole idea of what Ameranouche is, Sheppard said, though it has nothing to do with being possessive.
“The idea of playing original music is more than just my music, more than just our music,” he said. “It’s in the air. It’s not something that’s ours, per se, it’s in the air. The vibrations try to channel it and work with it. I know that sounds kind of esoteric, but it’s the way we feel about it. When people in the audience are listening and actively involved, the music changes because of that ... And we cherish them being there so much.”
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: Ameranouche concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14
Where: Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, 104 N. Main Ave. in Aztec
Tickets: $15 at crashmusicaztec.com
For more information: Call 505-427-6748