Monday, March 31, 2014

Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra Live, I Hear the Sound

Archie Shepp in his recordings of the '60s did as much as anybody to advance the "new thing" in jazz, the free avant garde music that flowered in that era and still flourishes today. In later years he toured less, recorded less and survived as a professor of music. But of course he never stopped playing.

A recent release of his Attica Blues Orchestra Live, The Cry of My People (Archie Ball 1301), has been out for a while. It takes music recorded at three festivals in France and gives us a generous 77 minutes of what they did.

The large band has some notable figures in the presence of Amina Claudine Myers on piano and vocals, Famoudou Don Moye on drums, Reggie Washington on bass, along with a host of names you might be less familiar with. There's a four-member string section and a full big band, so it is quite the gathering.

We get a chance to hear Archie hold forth on tenor and he comes through. His sound is slightly darker than it used to be but there is no mistaking who is playing that tenor!

As far as the program, other than Ms. Myers's "Arms", there is a grouping of works by Cal Massey and Maestro Shepp that will be familiar to anybody who has dug the man and his music over the considerable number of years. "Attica Blues", "The Cry of My People", "Steam" and "Mama Too Tight" will be especially familiar.

If this is less a free sort of encounter and more an earthy funk or rootsy gig, there's still plenty of heat in the ensemble. There's no letting up on the power of his music.

No, I have nothing bad to say about this record. It does not replace his classic sides, but it offers us an entirely credible large band smoking the more accessible side of Shepp, the outreach to the community side. And that's certainly cool--especially since we get his large ensemble vision here. If you need a reminder that Shepp has always had great respect for the jazz legacy that came before him, listen to him do Ellington's "Come Sunday".

Enough said. Check it out.

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