Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Magic of Ju-Ju

The Magic of Ju-Ju
impulse! AS-9154

Recorded April 26, 1967

Side One

1. The Magic of Ju-Ju

Side Two

1. You're What This Day Is All About
2. Shazam
3. Sorry 'bout That


ARCHIE SHEPP; tenor sax
MARTIN BANKS; trumpet, flugelhorn
MICHAEL ZWERIN; trumpet, trombone
EDDIE BLACKWELL; rhythm logs
FRANK CHARLES; talking drums
DENNIS CHARLES; percussion

For me, Shepp's impulse! discography splits into two - there are the currently available albums - the deluxe, 20-bit digitally remastered CDs - and the rest. Someone has made a decision what to reissue, and I'll bet it's been done on the grounds of commercial potential. "At least," says the impulse! marketing department, "Four For Trane has some tunes you can hum".

Well if that's the basis on which reissue decisions are made, then, in light of the lead track here, we won't be seeing this album on CD anytime soon. Shepp was (and remains) committed to the idea of Jazz as an African music, and here he makes the ultimate statement by fusing his own brand of free improvisation with an African-influenced percussion section. The 18 1/2 minute 'The Magic of Ju-Ju' that takes up the whole of side one is basically a duet between Shepp on his customary tenor, and the rhythm section of Harris, Connors, Blackwell, Charles and Charles on various percussion. The effect is gloriously primal in both sound and intensity. Shepp wails from the bottom of his soul; deep gulps of air lead into huge torrents of sound, while the percussion hits a steady groove and stays there, anchoring Shepp to his African roots.

After the onslaught of side one, the listener is either ready for anything or totally worn out, and some playful interpretations of more sttraightforward themes on side two is exactly what's called for. 'You're What This Day Is All About' is almost lyrical in parts (impulse! execs. take note!), with some poppy changes that act as a real counterpoint to side one's unhinged free exploration. Coming at this point in the record it's a breath of fresh air (in much the same way that 'Mama Too Tight' is on the album of that name). 'Shazam' continues in an avant-bop fashion, with odd harmonics aplenty within a typical bop framework. Workman is amazing here, holding the whole piece down while playing fast, high runs on his bass with great skill and even greater presence - enough, almost, to match Shepp, who becomes wilder as the track progresses - and even getting space for a showstopping solo just before the final theme statement. 'Sorry 'bout That' comes over like some kind of mutant soul jazz, with a funky groove from the percussion section underpinning a relatively restrained front line. Once again the changes have a real pop feel, and sit surprisingly well with the freedom that has preceeded them.

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