Friday, December 09, 2005

The Way Ahead

The Way Ahead

impulse! A-9170


Recorded January 29th 1968
Produced By Bob Thiele

Side One

1. Damn If I Know (The Stroller)
2. Frankenstein*

Side Two

1. Fiesta*
2. Sophisticated Lady


Archie Shepp; tenor sax
Walter Davis Jr.; piano
Ron Carter; bass
Jimmy Owens; trumpet
Grachan Moncur III; trombone
Beaver Harris*, Roy Haynes; drums

'The Way Ahead' marked a turning point for Archie Shepp. It's probably the first of his albums where he changes his focus from free playing and innovation and starts to head in the direction that would ultimately lead to albums of standards and spirituals in the late 70s and early 80s.

I say changes his focus - that's not to say that there isn't freedom here - there is, lots of it, but there's also other things creeping in like the bluesy 'Damn If I Know (the stroller)' and the sense of reverence to the past on Ellington's 'Sophisticated Lady' (he'd later record an LP of Ellington tunes, 1977's 'Day Dream'). 'Frankenstein' is more what you'd expect of late 60s Shepp - a furious blowing vehicle for Shepp with able support from Carter and Harris who keep things moving along wthout ever getting too carried away. Also worth a listen here is the ensemble playing of Owens, Moncur and Davis which acts as a fitting melodic backdrop to some of Shepp's wilder flights. The name of this track is appropriate too - despite the fast and furious soloing, the theme retains the lumbering character oft associated with Hollywood interpretations of the eponymous monster.

'Fiesta' has what would probably be called a 'party-vibe' nowadays. The theme is light and bouncy with a noticeable latin influence, but there's no let-up in Shepp's intensity. The closing 'Sophisticated Lady' is the closest the LP comes to a ballad, and is noticeably much more reverent than the other pieces. This is no longer the iconoclastic Shepp of 'Fire Music' - his playing is restrained and much more in keeping with the theme. There are still moments of freedom though, with dissonancies and odd harmonics never far away.

His next studio recordings would be the three classic BYG Actuel releases from August 1969, over a year later, but this LP really does point the way towards what was to come.

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