Saturday, February 27, 2021

Archie Shepp and Jason Moran - Let My People Go (Archieball Records, 2021)

There is a very interesting recent interview with Archie Shepp, where he talks about a conversation with his mother during his free jazz firebrand years in the mid 1960's which led him to take a different musical path, one leading to explore more melody, standards and blues. One aspect of this exploration was delving into the jazz repertoire with pianists like Horace Parlan, Mal Waldron and more. He revisits that format here, in the company of the excellent pianist Jason Moran, whose career has shown him playing everting from classic jazz to opera and free improvisation. These two musicians click right away and the music flows very well, as they play a wide ranging setlist that moves from gospel to well known jazz songs and beyond. The sacred performances are suitably reverent, like on the opening track "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" which is slow but not mournful, with the two instrumentalists paying homage to the melody and drafting a respectful improvisation before Shepp steps to the microphone and sings the longing lyrics in a hushed yet potent tone. "Go Down Moses" is performed in the same manner, sounding like a deeply hewn gospel blues with Moran providing spacious chords around which Shepp creates his own vision, and speak sings the biblical message of the composition. The centerpiece of the recording is a lengthy performance of the John Coltrane composition "Wise One" which sparks some more fiery playing from the participants with an inspired duo improvisation and a particularly effervescent solo piano section for Moran. Duke Ellington's "Isfahan" was originally a ballad centerpiece for the great saxophonist Johnny Hodges, and it works particularly well in this stripped down setting. Moran is able to provide the scaffolding of melody and rhythm, allowing Shepp to craft a patient and lilting solo characterized by the expression of the ballad saxophone throughout jazz history from Lester Young to Ben Webster on to Hodges and beyond. Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight" is a fine choice for the duo, with Shepp's saxophone providing an experienced and unique reading of the melody, and leading them into an area ripe for improvisation as a duet or for Moran's crystalline and spare solo section, they explore the song in their own way making it fresh and thoughtful. This album worked quite well, with any difference in age and conception quickly falling away, leading to a combined approach that allows them to tackle the material with fresh ears and create in the moment with feeling and spontaneity. Let My People Go -

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