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Contemporary Jazz - Released February 5, 2021 | Archieball

Hi-Res Distinctions 4F de Télérama
Among the many facets of Archie Shepp's distinguished career, it is notable that since his solo debut in 1964, he has been gigging and recording at a near-constant pace. For an 83-year-old saxophone player specializing in provocative and boundary-challenging improvisation, this is impressive enough, but that Shepp's creative, intellectual, and political fire has in 50-plus years remained undimmed, well, that is remarkable indeed. Throughout those years, Shepp has always been an enthusiastic collaborator, working extensively with Cecil Taylor and Don Cherry, as well as more occasional meetings with the likes of Mal Waldron, Max Roach, and Horace Parlan, and cross-genre explorations with Frank Zappa, Material, and others. He is a player whose confidence in his style and musical language allows him to not only share a spotlight, but also to seek out co-conspirators to broaden his sonic palette. In the 21st century, Shepp's recording pace has not slowed, but his interest in collaborations seems to have accelerated; more than half of his releases over the last two decades have seen him partnered up. This album, the latest such release, finds him working with Jason Moran, whose modernist, New York-centric take on post-bop has made him one of the most critically acclaimed jazz pianists of the last 20 years. Moran's musical vocabulary is as broad and deep as Shepp's, and the two also clearly share an intellectual and ideological affinity when it comes to creative and cultural work. So it is both somewhat surprising and completely on-brand that on their debut duet album, the two aim straight for the songbook, taking on a clutch of standards that have often been handled competently, if not interestingly, in lesser hands. With these two, pieces like "Lush Life" easily unshackle themselves from decades of overplay and sound reinvigorated. The easy, restrained interplay between the enormous tone of Shepp's saxophone and Moran's melodic and exploratory piano finds the two charting their own courses through these pieces, and when Shepp starts singing on "Go Down Moses" and "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child," an entirely new dimension is added. It would have been quite easy for Shepp and Moran to romp through well-trod pieces like "Round Midnight" with gleeful abandon, but instead, they take a more focused and politically interrogatory approach to the material, resulting in an intelligent, emotional, evocative,and, yes, another remarkable addition to Shepp's voluminous discography. © Jason Ferguson/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2002 | Enja Horst Weber

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
Mal Waldron's first tribute to Billie Holiday, titled Left Alone, was recorded in 1959, mere months before the singer's death. He returned to salute the legendary vocalist on several occasions since then, with this CD likely being his final tribute, recorded less than a year before his own death. Waldron, who worked with Holiday during her last years, is intimately familiar with her takes of the six standards heard on this disc, along with her own "Lady Sings the Blues." Archie Shepp's often gritty tenor sax is reminiscent of the texture of Holiday's voice, yet he perfectly complements Waldron's lush piano. They also pack a punch with their stark performance of "Left Alone" (Shepp's occasional reed squeaks seem deliberate, as if to imitate breaks in her voice). Waldron also recites Holiday's lyrics set to his composition at the conclusion of the CD. Shepp switches to soprano sax for an emotional take of "Everything Happens to Me" and "I Only Have Eyes for You," with the latter song sounding as if the unheard singer is being ignored by her love interest. Shepp's "Blues for 52nd Street" is both sassy and swinging. This instrumental salute to Billie Holiday is one of the best albums ever to honor her memory. © Ken Dryden /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1972 | Impulse!

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Recorded in 1972 with a core band of Leroy Jenkins, Cornell Dupree (!), Jimmy Garrison, and Charles McGhee, Shepp supplemented these proceedings in much the same way he did with the cast of Attica Blues, with gospel singers, big bands, quintets, sextets, and chamber orchestras, with guests that included Harold Mabern on piano, Bernard "Pretty" Purdie on drums, and Ron Carter on electric bass! Recorded during a period in which Shepp was reaching out of the jazz idiom to include all of what he perceived to be "trans-African" music at the time, there is gutbucket R&B here, as well as the sweetly soul gospel of "Rest Enough." The charts' arrangements are a combination of Ellington's more pastoral moods -- usually expressed in his suites -- and the more darkly complex modal stylings of George Russell. Unlike some of Shepp's dates from this period, the vocals do not detract from the mix employed here. This is an urban record that showcases Shepp's ability, at this time in his career, to literally take on any project, combine as many sources as he was permitted by his financial resources, and come up with something compelling, provocative, and soulful. All extremes are subsumed by the whole: The avant-garde free jazz of the period is covered in the large-ensemble playing, which is covered by the gospel and R&B stylings that are accented by the free jazz players. Shepp worked with many larger ensembles as a leader, but never did he achieve such a perfect balance as he did on The Cry of My People. Given that the remastered version -- with excellent liner notes, superb sound, and a gorgeous package -- is being issued during an election year in the United States, its poignancy and urgency couldn't be more timely © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released June 3, 2015 | Venus Records, Inc.

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2016 | SteepleChase

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1972 | Verve

Refining his large-ensemble experiments of 1971, Attica Blues is one of Archie Shepp's most significant post-'60s statements, recorded just several months after authorities ended the Attica prison uprising by massacring 43 inmates and hostages. Perhaps because Shepp's musical interests were changing, Attica Blues isn't the all-out blast of rage one might expect; instead, it's a richly arranged album of mournful, quietly agonized blues and Ellingtonian swing, mixed with a couple of storming funk burners. Of course, Shepp doesn't quite play it straight, bringing his avant-garde sensibilities to both vintage big band and contemporary funk, with little regard for the boundaries separating them all. His soloing on tenor and soprano is typically sharp-edged and modal, and his nasal, slicing tone on soprano is featured quite heavily. The stylishness of the slow numbers is undercut with quivering, faintly unsettling dissonances, and the up-tempo funk cuts recall the way Sly Stone's arrangements ping-ponged many different elements off each other in a gleeful organized chaos. That's especially true on the gospel-inflected title song, a monster of a groove that later became a hit on the acid jazz revival circuit (and stands up to anything recorded by straight-up funk bands of the era). In the same vein, "Blues for Brother George Jackson" sounds like an edgier Isaac Hayes-style blaxploitation soundtrack cut. Vocal ballads are plentiful, and Joe Lee Wilson ("Steam," a song Shepp would return to often) and Carl Hall (aka Henry Hull) both acquit themselves well; more debatable are the poetic recitations and the choice of flügelhornist/composer Cal Massey's young daughter Waheeda to sing "Quiet Dawn" (although Waheeda's almost-there intonation is effectively creepy). Still, in the end, Attica Blues is one of Shepp's most successful large-group projects, because his skillful handling of so many different styles of black music produces such tremendously groovy results. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Jazz - Released July 15, 2015 | Venus Records, Inc.

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1978 | Savoy

A somewhat surprising pairing at the time, the former firebrand of the tenor sax and the wonderful South African pianist found a pleasant and relaxed meeting point. By 1978, Shepp had largely abandoned the ferocious attack that gained him renown in the '60s, settling on a rich, Ben Webster-ish tone and playing a repertoire consisting of modern standards and bluesy originals. Two such pieces, the lovely Dave Burrell/Marion Brown composition "Fortunato" and Mal Waldron's "Left Alone," are highlights of this session, Shepp's burnished tone as soft as an old shoe. Ibrahim is a fairly deferential partner here, generally preferring to play the role of accompanist, although certainly one sprinkling his work with plenty of ideas for Shepp to work off. But the prevailing sense of relaxation begins to pall after a while and one wishes for a bit more of the old rough and tumble that these two were surely capable of. Still, for those who enjoyed Shepp's mid-'70s dates for Arista/Freedom and Ibrahim's more subdued group efforts of the late '70s and early '80s, there's much good listening here. © Brian Olewnick /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 9, 2015 | Venus Records, Inc.

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1997 | GRP

From 1964, Archie Shepp's first date as a leader featured -- as one would expect from the title -- four tunes by John Coltrane, his mentor, his major influence, and his bandleader. The fact that this album holds up better than almost any of Shepp's records nearly 40 years after the fact has plenty to do with the band he chose for this session, and everything to do with the arranging skills of trombonist Roswell Rudd. The band here is Shepp on tenor, John Tchicai on alto, Rudd on trombone, Trane's bassist Reggie Workman, and Ornette Coleman's drummer Charles Moffett. Even in 1964, this was a powerhouse, beginning with a bluesed-out wailing version of "Syeeda's Song Flute." This version is ingenious, with Shepp allowing Rudd to arrange for solos for himself and Tchicai up front and Rudd punching in the blues and gospel in the middle, before giving way to double time by Workman and Moffett. The rawness of the whole thing is so down-home you're ready to tell someone to pass the butter beans when listening. Rudd's arrangement of "Naima" is also stunningly beautiful: He reharmonizes the piece for the mid-register tone of Shepp, who does his best Ben Webster and adds a microtonal tag onto the front and back, dislocating the tune before it begins and after it ends, while keeping it just out of the range of the consonant throughout. Wonderful! The only Shepp original here is "Rufus (Swung, His Face at Last to the Wind, Then His Neck Snapped)." It's not a terribly sophisticated tune, but it works in the context of this band largely because of the soloing prowess of all the members -- particularly Tchicai -- here. There is barely any melody, the key changes are commensurate with tempo shifts, and the harmonics are of the sliding scale variety. Still, there are the blues; no one can dig into them and honk them better than Shepp. When it came to sheer exuberance and expression, he was a force to be reckoned with in his youth, and it shows in each of the tunes recorded here. Four for Trane is a truly fine, original, and lasting album from an under-celebrated musician. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2016 | SteepleChase

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Jazz - Released March 28, 2006 | Charly Records

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Free Jazz & Avant-Garde - Released January 1, 2011 | Archieball

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Jazz - Released May 27, 2015 | Venus Records, Inc.

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2006 | Impulse!

Kwanza is a curious Archie Shepp recording. Released in 1969 on Impulse, it features cuts recorded between September 1968 and August 1969 with an assortment of lineups. Four of the album's five cuts were produced by Bob Thiele, and one, "Slow Drag," by Ed Michel. Shepp composed three tunes here, and he is in the company of musicians such as Grachan Moncur III (who composed "New Africa"), Jimmy Owens, Dave Burrell, Wally Richardson, Bob Bushnell, Bernard Purdie and Beaver Harris, Leon Thomas, Charles Davis, Woody Shaw, Cedar Walton, Wilbur Ware, Joe Chambers, Cecil Payne, and others. As the title might suggest, Kwanza is a joyful record, full of celebration in blues and jazz. "Back Back" opens the set with a colossal funky blues that feels like an out version of the JB's with Burrell kicking it on B-3. The all-too-brief "Spoo Dee Doo," showcases Thomas' unique, and truly awesome vocal stylings along with Tasha Thomas and Doris Troy providing a swinging backing R&B chorus. "New Africa" is the most vanguard track here, with a different rhythm section than on "Back Back," and no guitar, Burrell returns to his piano. It begins in a manner that suggests anger, but not rage. It becomes an edgeless, rounded meditation on joy and gratitude, a statement of purpose at realization and transcendence with Shepp, Owens. and Davis playing alongside Moncur as a monumental choral line in timbres; textures, big harmonic reaches and ultimately resolution. "Slow Drag," is a funky blues tune, it struts a minor key line that feels like a mutated "Wade in the Water," but its Latin rhythms and the killer bass work of Wilbur Ware make the cut a standout. The set closes with Cal Massey's "Bakai," a tune that walks a fringed line on the inside and swings like mad. Kwanza may not be one of Shepp's better known recordings, but it is certainly one of his fine ones. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released June 24, 2015 | Venus Records, Inc.

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Jazz - Released December 10, 2008 | Timeless Records

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Contemporary Jazz - Released January 1, 2013 | Archieball

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Free Jazz & Avant-Garde - Released January 1, 2009 | Archieball

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2006 | Impulse!

Archie Shepp's volume in The Impulse Story series, with liner notes by Ashley Kahn, author of The House That Trane Built: The Impulse Story, is arguably the best and most representative of any of the editions in it. These ten cuts capture Shepp's many faces. There's his wonderful look inside the music of his mentor John Coltrane ("Naima" from Four for Trane), through to his gaze at the jazz tradition (Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady"), to bossa nova (a very unique read of "Girl from Ipanema") to the weighty concerns of his own compositions that engaged everything from the avant-garde "Les Matin des Noires" to politics ("Malcolm Malcolm -- Semper Malcolm"), to R&B and soul ("Damn If I Know" "Mama Too Tight," and "Attica Blues"). While certain albums are not represented here -- the magnificent Magic of Ju-Ju being one -- the breadth and depth of Shepp's true genius is all here. That said, it is a shame that many of his albums recorded for Impulse (the classic Fire Music and Magic of Ju-Ju just to name two) are currently out of print. Of all the volumes in this fine collection, Shepp's stands, with Alice Coltrane's as the very best in that it gives a true introduction to an artist often misunderstood, but during his tenure for this label, he was creatively unstoppable. © Thom Jurek /TiVo