Archie Shepp started his career as a new thing firebrand, an acolyte of John Coltrane and a fierce advocate for civil rights. By the time these sessions were recorded in the late 60’s and early 70’s, Shepp had changed - developing a funky style of R&B tinged jazz that wasn’t exactly fusion, but definitely showed an awareness of what people like James Brown and Sly Stone were up to. The first album on this 2-fer, is the rare disc For Losers, and it surprises you right from the jump with a straight up R&B tune called “Stick ‘em Up,” which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the AM radio of the time. Some of the other tracks enter the same territory, with massive horn riffs and drums propelling a killer groove. Shepp was evolving into an excellent ballad player and examples of this are apparent on the vocal enhanced piece of Ellingtonia, “I’ve Got It Bad,” and then instrumental “What Would It Be Without You” enhanced by some gentle flute. His tenor playing, especially on the ballads has taken on a Ben Webster like confidence (something he would pass on to fellow traveler David Murray.) Kwanza is an overlooked gem of a recording. This album has a curious history, being recorded during 1968 and 1969 and then only slipping out during the end of the original Impulse tenure in 1974. These recordings have a fairly large group of performers including among others Grachan Moncur III on trombone, James Spaulding on alto saxophone, Charles Davis on baritone saxophone, and Dave Burrell on organ. The music itself is a very interesting blend of funky R&B and spiritual "cosmic-groove" free-jazz that was Impulse's stock and trade during the late 1960's. The opening track "Back Back" is the best example of this with some righteous honking over a slippery organ groove. Moncour's "New Africa" allows the band the opportunity to stretch out on a freer angle, without ever sinking into just perfunctory blowing. The only mis-step "Spoo Pee Doo" featureing vocals from the distinctive Leon Thomas, background singers as well as flute, for something completely different.which really never takes flight. Apart from that though, this is a fine album of modal to free jazz which should give open eared jazz listeners a lot to enjoy. For Losers / Kwanza -
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Unnatural Ways - We Aliens (Tzadik, 2016) ****
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