Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Archie Shepp - Blase And Yasmina Revisited (ezz-thetics, 2021)

1969 marked a fascinating year in music as some of the most talented African-American avant-garde jazz musicians took leave of the racism and political divisiveness of their home country to move to Paris, where performing and recording opportunities were more plentiful, and they were treated in a more respectful manner. Saxophonist Archie Shepp was one of these expatriates, taking a break from his Impulse Records contract to record several albums for European labels, two of which are represented on this compilation. His 1969 BYG/Actuel album Blase is presented in full and it is a fascinating project. Vocalist Jeanne Lee is particularly brilliant, showing incredible range, moving from smoldering soul of the title track to the gospel of “There is a Balm in Gildead” and the gentle swing of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” Shepp is generous in his arrangements, including the harmonica player known only as Chicago Beau and offering him quite a bit of space on “My Angel” and “Blase.” Beau adds a rootsy sounds and deepens the overall texture of the music, as other players flit in and out of individual tracks, Dave Burrell adding touches of piano, and Lester Bowie adding trumpet and flugelhorn. The final track on Blase is the scalding "Touareg" where Shepp meets Malachai Favors from the Art Ensemble of Chicago on bass and veteran drummer Philly Joe Jones on drums. The music is fast and powerful, as Shepp doubles down on his tenor saxophone playing pushing the tempo forward. Philly Joe may have been rooted in swing and bop, but he was game for anything, and he locks in with the two younger men for an excellent performance. The final track on this compilation is a very exciting twenty minute blowout entitled "Yasmina" where Shepp leads an excellent nine piece band on tenor saxophone and urgent voice, really pushing the envelope. Recruiting members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago like Roscoe Mitchell on powerful and stoic bass saxophone, Lester Bowie on trumpet, along side the masterful Sunny Murray on drums making for a potent and viscerally exciting modern jazz performance. This was a well done compilation, presenting some of Archie Shepp's best work for BYG/Actuel, remastered in such a way that it brings out the nuances of the music and the personalities of the players that performed it, the CD also includes a well written essay from Bill Shoemaker that puts the music into historical context. Blase And Yasmina Revisited - Squidco

Send comments to Tim.