Saturday, November 19, 2005

Archie Shepp - Black Gypsy

Black Gypsy
America 30 AM 6099

Recorded November 9th, 1969

Side 1

1. Black Gypsy

Side 2

1. Epitaph Of A Small Winner
a. Rio de Janeiro
b. Casablanca
c. Chicago


ARCHIE SHEPP; soprano sax
JULIO FINN; harmonica
NOAH HOWARD; alto sax

Archie Shepp never stood still. Having spent most of the 1960's earning a reputation as a leading free player, he both consolidated his position and broke new ground with this recording from the tail end of the decade. This copy of that LP is the original French issue on the America label, which has been reissued recently on Free America.

This album is one of his first to head in the direction he would take later, in the 1970's, and acts as a useful signpost for those trying to trace the route from his powerful free jazz statements of the preceding decade to the bluesy, heavily orchestrated "Attica Blues" and "The Cry Of My People". Although both sides of this album stay firmly in the free jazz idiom, the blues are beginning to creep in, along with other influences - notably African on side 2. This movement away from free jazz probably began in 1966, with "A Portrait of Robert Thompson (as a young man)" from that year's "Mama Too Tight", an 18 minute journey through the history of black music, from Africa to New Orleans seen through the eyes of the high priest of free jazz.

'Black Gypsy' starts out with the plaintive violin of Leroy Jenkins, then the rhythm section set up a steady groove before the ensemble enter, piece by piece. Shepp is immediately noticeable on his entry, being featured here on soprano throughout. The playing is free, certainly, but there's not the confusion of noise that sometimes exists. It's always clear who's the soloist, with the other players providing back-up from time to time. Sometimes two soloists trade lines in a call and response fashion, sometimes they play simultaneously; but the playing always feels well organised. The track builds continuously throughout it's 26 minutes, with more and more players coming on stream, and the incessant and increasingly urgent groove backing it all up. Interspersed throughout the piece is the conscious poetry of Chicago Beauchamp, lending the music yet more urgency with his exhortations on love and freedom.

Side 2 takes us on a round the world trip of the mind, starting out in much the same vein as 'Black Gypsy' before picking up a hint of samba, morroccan gnawa, and ultimately blues, as evinced by Julio Finn's harmonica riff on the closing 'Chicago' section. It's an incredible feeling, listening to the band build from meditative free jazzery in the morroccan section to the climax of raw earthy blues. You'd be forgiven for thinking that another band had slipped onto the record while you weren't looking, but it's this section more than any that points forward to Shepp's great works of the 1970's.

Ultimately, as with most other Shepp LP's, there's much to enjoy here with great performances from all concerned. Ignore the critics, who just didn't 'get' this fine LP, and go and out and grab a copy. There's no excuse now that it's available on CD, get it here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

CRAIG: You got it. Best wishes......CBeau