“Shepherd…plays piano with old-soul authority and composes rich, evocative music.” Peter Hum, The Ottawa Citizen, CANADA
Kyle Shepherd, one of South Africa’s leading progressive pianists and composers of his generation, is fast gaining international recognition for his distinctive compositional style and performances.
The 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist of the Year Award winner for Jazz already has a well-established record of celebrated performances in South Africa, Europe, Asia and the USA.
The twenty-seven-year-old virtuoso pianist has already released five (5) critically acclaimed albums in his young career. In 2014, he released two (2) albums, namely Dream State, a 21-track double album of his Trio which has received nominations for both the 2015 South African Music Award [SAMA] and a 2015 Metro FM Music Award in the Jazz Category, as well as his debut solo piano offering Into Darkness, recorded in Japan, which was launched with a tour in the South-East Asian country in 2014 that included a performance at the prestigious Tokyo Jazz Festival. Previous releases include fineART, A Portrait of Home & South African History !X, all of which earned SAMA nominations.
Shepherd made his US debut in 2014 which included a show at Carnegie Hall with Kesivan & The Lights and a Solo Piano performance at Kavierhaus in New York. In March 2015, he will perform at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival with Carlo Mombelli & the Stories Ensemble & also with the Claude Cozens Trio. In April 2015, he will be on tour in Switzerland with ‘Black Box’, a South African – Swiss collaboration, ahead of a return to the USA in preparation of a special music project which will lead to performances there towards the end of the year. Shepherd will be in Zimbabwe for solo piano performances at HIFA – Harare International Festival of the Arts in May and his Trio makes its Canadian debut at, inter alia, the Ottawa Jazz Festival in June 2015.
As a pianist, Xaru player (traditional mouth-bow) and composer, Shepherd has forged a unique compositional and performance concept that pays homage to all his musical influences and the many great musicians he has worked with, all while continuing to look forward musically in a way, which, in the words of the great South African Jazz writer and historian, Gwen Ansell, “live in the jazz world but are never imprisoned by it”.
Shepherd regularly performs in concert as a Solo pianist, while also leading his Trio, with Shane Cooper (double bass) and Jonno Sweetman (drums). In the Dream State album’s liner notes, the renowned arts journalist and author, Percy Mabandu succinctly describes the ethos of the trio in this way:
“There’s a palpable connectedness they share as players, a connection that also touches attuned audiences at their live performances too. This band is on a search for more than beautiful notes. They are asking more of the music. Its corporeal and ethereal aspects are invoked into the simultaneous sound ritual.”
In 2013, Shepherd performed his special festival-commissioned music project, Xamissa, Place of Sweet Waters, to critical acclaim at the Festival d’Automne à Paris (Paris Autumn Festival).
Apart from South Africa, Shepherd has also performed in Japan, USA, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway, France, Denmark, India, Malaysia, China, Swaziland, Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe, with notable concert appearances, either as a solo pianist or trio, quartet and other formats at Carnegie Hall (USA), Klavierhaus (USA), The Bird’s Eye Jazz Club (Switzerland), Jazzwerkstatt Festival Bern (Switzerland), Reformierte Dorfkirche Kleinhüningen (Switzerland), Klubschule St. Gallen (Switzerland), Der Sendesaal, (Germany), Hallenbad Kultur Am Schactweg, (Germany), The Tokyo Jazz Festival (Japan), Body & Soul Jazz Club (Japan), Shikiori (Japan), Kaho Gekijo Kabuki Theatre (Japan), Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord and L’Onde Théâtre et Centre d’art as part of the Festival d’Automne à Paris (France), The Aarhus Jazz Festival (Denmark), The Cape Town International Jazz Festival (South Africa), The Joy of Jazz Festival (South Africa), The National Arts Festival, Grahamstown (South Africa), Harare International Festival – HIFA (Zimbabwe),The Tianjin International Jazz Festival (China), No Black Tie (Malaysia), MICA (India), B-Flat (India) and The Gonsalves Mansion ‘Home of Jazz’ (India).
Album & Concert Review Highlights:
“… it’s in his linking of international influences with his own local traditions that his strength lies.” – Peter Bacon, The Jazz Breakfast [UK]
“… a straight-ahead modern jazz piano sound, where well-crafted melodies are the vehicle to coast over the surface of tight, dynamic rhythms.” – Dave Sumner, Wondering Sound [NY, USA]
In the ‘Dream State’ album’s liner notes, renowned arts journalist, Percy Mabandu succinctly described the ethos of the trio in this way:
“There’s a palpable connectedness they share as players, a connection that also touches attuned audiences at their live performances too. This band is on a search for more than beautiful notes. They are asking more of the music. Its corporeal and ethereal aspects are invoked into the simultaneous sound ritual. Each performance takes on the nature of a meditation and as Zim Ngqawana said, ‘the music must lead us towards ourselves’. ”
“Repeat listening to the same material on record underlines what a distinctive voice Shepherd now has. Those fragments of musical home that have always characterised his compositions and playing are still there; the reworkings, though, are often unexpected and subtle, emerging from a modern and personal pianism that isn’t in anybody’s shadow. Dream State joins an impressive 2014 list of albums of the year.” Gwen Ansell, Arts Journalist, Author & Historian, Business Day
“As a composer and arranger Shepherd is proving to be one of the chief architects of modern Cape jazz.” Andre Manuel, The Cape Times
“This is improvisation as a search for freedom, “freedom from”, yes, but also “freedom to”, a key to unlock the doors of music making in the future”. Miles Keylock, Editor-in-Chief, Rolling Stone South Africa
In his review of the Trio album, “A Portrait of Home”, international music critic, Marcus O’Dair | The Arts Desk UK, commends the work of the Trio. “A Portrait Of Home sees Shepherd, together with Shane Cooper on double bass and drummer Jonno Sweetman, creating music of subtle yet tremendous power. Though the technique of all three is undeniable, this is no antiseptic chopsfest: it is music of genuine passion, meditative and stately but always emotionally engaged. It has groove at its very core, with hummable, stripped back melodies on top – and not just in the “head” sections that traditionally top and tail jazz arrangements.”
In his Foreword to Shepherd’s Debut Album “fineART”, internationally acclaimed South African music legend, the late Zim Ngqawana had the following to say about Shepherd’s music:
“Authenticity is another word for originality and this is clearly evident in Kyle’s compositions, arrangements and improvisation. He has managed to find a balance between the intellect and intuition. Kyle is a meditator and a poet.”
“I believe that on fineART, Shepherd carries the torch for this style of music.” Don Albert (Financial Mail)
“(His compositions) unashamedly display his cultural music traditions, drawing on the unique rhythms, harmonies, and melodic devices of what Kyle calls “music from home”. Carol Martin (SAJE – South African Association for Jazz Education).
“It’s this ‘Proudly South African’ tradition that audiences can expect to hear” … “which sees the multi-instrumentalist navigate an impressionistic collage of South African jazz sounds, from slam poetic minimalist re-imaginings of Afrikaans volksliedjies and Muslim calls to prayer, to goema groove deconstructions, tributes to Abdullah Ibrahim, Ngqawana’s philosophy of “Zimology” and more that, as the doyen of South African jazz scribes Gwen Ansell pointed out in Business Day recently: “live in the jazz world but are never imprisoned by it”. Miles Keylock (Mail & Guardian)
“Shepherd’s jagged edges and questioning dissonances sound far more like Ibrahim at the start of his career than his magisterial solemnity. The young player’s plaintive little minor-key segues into fragments of musical fragments represent a sonic collage of his city, much as pianist Robert Glasper’s sounds (also heard this year in Cape Town) collage the jazz history and hip-hop present of New York. ” Gwen Ansell (Business Day / The Weekender)
“Shepherd is an outstanding pianist …. His ability to craft extensive melodic passages and tangents takes one on a musical journey.” Keenan Oakes (Artspoken, Artslink)