Wednesday, March 30, 2011

John Coltrane and Archie Shepp – New Thing at Newport (Impulse, 1965)

Jazz was evolving at a fast pace when these two short sets were recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival during the summer of 1965. Saxophonist and composer John Coltrane’s “classic quartet” was on its last legs, soon to fracture over Coltrane’s embrace of free jazz, the so called “New Thing.” But for the time being, Coltrane was still accompanied by McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. It’s hard to believe that the band would soon split as they play two extraordinary improvisations, first the scalding tenor saxophone led “One Down, One Up” and then the perennial favorite, “My Favorite Things” featuring Coltrane’s beautifully swirling soprano saxophone. Both improvisations are explosive in their intensity, particularly the former with the music nearly boiling over at times. Despite the audacity of the music there are enough hints of melody and the musicians are so obviously sincere in their desire to explore that they are given great support by the audience. Saxophonist and composer Archie Shepp was one of the primary acolytes of Coltrane, although his tenor featured a rougher and grittier sound reminiscent of earlier swing tenors (and setting a precedent for David Murray to come.) He is accompanied by a highly percussive unit featuring Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Barre Phillips on bass and Joe Chambers on drums. They lay down an ever shifting rhythm for Shepp to improvise over on “Gingerbread, Gingerbread Boy” and “Call Me By My Rightful Name.” Shepp’s rough hewn saxophone matches them well, as does his strong speaking voice on the anti-heroin jazz/poetry piece “Scag.” While the music on this disc must have come as something of a shock to those who were unprepared for it, listening in historical context reveals it to be an excellent example of the rapidly evolving state of jazz in the mid 1960’s by two of its most well known practitioners. New Thing at Newport - amazon.com

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