Archie Shepp - Kwanza
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So say the sleeve notes of this recent re-issue of an original album that took over five years to appear on Impulse! after session recordings in 1968 and 1969. Whether it was due to the ‘progressive’, free improvised style of saxophonist/composer Shepp that kept this material in the can for so long, we can only guess. Nearly forty years later, it is sounding really funky, free, modal, spiritual and now!
The opener, ‘Back Back’ has a raw rock’n’roll sound to the funk (similar to the sound of Albert Ayler, (if not the freedom of Ayler). In addition to Shepp, another free jazz leader Grachan Moncur III features on trombone on ‘Back Back’ (on a session that also includes Jimmy Owens, James Spaulding and Bernard Purdie) and it’s Moncur’s ‘New Africa’ that is the freethinking opus here. Shepp gives his tenor sax a proper workout during this 12-minute piece. This is the best bit of spiritual jazz I’ve heard in ages as all the solos are great, Moncur and Charles Davis (baritone sax) especially.
The title of ‘Spoo Pee Doo’ is a bit of an odd track in more than just name alone, it was Philly street slang of the time meaning ‘everything is fine’. Not only is it the shortest track, it is also the most frustrating as Andy Bey, Leon Thomas and Doris Troy were all in on the session. Just think what they were capable of outside of the confines of two and a half minutes.
‘Slow Drag’ is another odd one out as Ed Michel produces it, all the others being produced by Bob Thiele. Michel produced the Ayler classic Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe but there’s none of that on ‘Slow Drag’. It’s not slow either. With the change of personnel, Joe Chambers (drums), Cedar Walton (piano), Wilbur Ware (Bass) Clarence Sharpe (alto), Matthew Gee (trombone), Cecile Payne (baritone) and Woody Shaw (trumpet) it sounds more like an adventurous Blue Note avant-garde session. But nobody was holding back in New York City in the summer of 1969.
The set ends with ‘Bakai’ which was written by a friend of John Coltrane, Calvin Massey who wrote it upon hearing of the murder of Emmett Till. The same line up as ‘New Africa’ plays on this track but this time, it’s got an American feel to it.
To borrow a Peterson phrase, this is an album you need to understand how to join the dots between the music of today like Nostalgia 77 and classics of the past like Pure Fire! (which includes Shepp’s ‘I Got It Bad’) and Sunday Afternoon At Dingwalls. Now that sounds like four albums to have before Kwanza; Kwanza: Afrikan holy week 26th Dec to 1st Jan where each day takes one of seven principles relating to “Afrikan-ness” or “Nguzo Saba”.
Stay tuned to FLY as Hectic will be digging some classic jazz re-issues from Milestone and Prestige labels very soon.
Hectic Mix nominations: All - also recommend Grachan Moncur III’s Evolution (Blue Note)
Reviewed: Archie Shepp - Kwanza (Impulse!) Cat. No. 06025 17050396 Release date: Nov 2006 Producer [Reissue] Bryan Koniarz, Producer Bob Thiele (tracks: 1 to 3, 5) Ed Michel (track 5). Notes: Original LP issue: Impulse AS-9262 and recorded September 1968 and February and August 1969 in New York City.
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