Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Attica Blues Big Band

Attica Blues Big Band
Blue Marge 1001 (F)

Recorded October 24, 1979, Palais des Glaces, Paris

Side One

1. Antes De Adios
2. Star Love
3. Moon Bees
4. Attica Blues part one
5. Steam

Side Two

1. Quiet Dawn
2. Hi-Fly
3. U-Jamma

Side Three

1. Strollin
2. Ballad For A Child
3. Simone
4. Crusificado

Side Four

1. A Change Has Come Over Me
2. Goodbye Sweet Pops
3. Skippin'
4. Attica Blues part two


Archie Shepp (p, ss, ts, conductor)
Kamal Alim, Roy Burrowes, Charles Mc Ghee, Eddie Preston, Richard "Malachi" Thompson (tp)
Charles "Majeed" Greenlee, Dick Griffin, Ray Harris, Charles Stephens, (tb)
Steve Turre (tb, sea shell)
Marvin Blackman (ss, fl)
Marion Brown (as, fl)
Patience Higgins, John Purcell, James Ware (ss, fl)
Candice Greene (vln)
Terry Jenoure (vln, voc)
Carl Ector (viola)
Akua Dixon (cello, voc, p)
Irene Datcher, Joe Lee Wilson (voc)
Art Matthews (p)
Clyde Criner (synth)
Brandon Ross (g)
Hakim Jami (b, tuba)
Avery Sharpe (b, el-b)
Clifford Jarvis (dr)
Kevin Jones (perc)

For today's post we fast-forward to the other end of Archie Shepp's career. This 1979 live recording documents the realistion of Shepp's ambition to create a work that fused all aspects of black American music into one coherent whole. With albums like 1972's 'Attica Blues' he had come close, but here he surpasses even that great record with an outstanding set of experimental big-band music.

As the title might suggest, much of the music within is taken from the 1972 album, but there is much more to the record than that. First and foremost it's a big band record - for all the concept album feel of the opening segment (up to 'Attica Blues part one'), once the band get into the groove they really swing. Listen to 'Strollin' or 'Crusificado' on side three for evidence of that - big show tunes , but backed up with some outsatnding instrumental playing, especially from Shepp who is on great form here. He really lets it all hang out here - not in the sense of playing free - but in terms of passion and commitment. The closest he comes to his free-jazz roots is on side two's run through 'Hi-Fly', and especially 'U-Jamma' - but the ferocity of the 1975 piece is toned down and replaced with some fine lyrical playing. Shepp's playing throughout is to a high standard - on sax anyway - his few attempts at piano are pretty basic. At least they blend into the background behind Irene Datcher's vocal, on 'Ballad For A Child' for example.

The tracks from the original 'Attica Blues' are well executed. The big band setting breathes new life into 'Attica Blues' itself, reworked as a jazz-funk masterpiece with it's slap bass and soulful vocal. The greatest transformation is of 'Quiet Dawn', where the measured delivery of the vocal is in sharp contrast to 8-year-old Waheeda Massey's surreal effort on the original 1972 recording. The mood of the entire performance is different, too - where 'Attica...' was an articulate cry of anger, '.. big band' is celebratory - proud, even.

There's some outstanding talent in the band - Marion Brown on alto, Charles Greenlee on trombone and Joe Lee Wilson on vocals, to name but three, but with the exception of Shepp this isn't a gig for soloists. It's very much a band effort, and all the better for it. It must have been a formidable task to create charts for so many players for what was a one-off gig, but Shepp has risen to the challenge admirably.

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