Monday, February 15, 2021

CD Review: Archie Shepp & Jason Moran - Let My People Go

Archie Shepp & Jason Moran
Let My People Go

Archie Shepp's duets with the late pianist Horace Parlan, found on albums that include Goin' Home and Trouble In Mind, arguably contain performances that rank with the tenor saxophonist's best-known early work for the Impulse! label. When recording some of the spirituals on the former album, Shepp told this writer, he was overcome with emotion. "The history, the suffering that those songs connoted was very much part of the performance itself," Shepp said in 2017. "I think we both knew and felt …it’s like two ex-slaves getting together. We didn’t have to discuss our experiences because we were deeply and profoundly aware of the implication. When [Parlan] touched the piano, I could feel history."

Let My People Go finds the 83-year old saxophonist teaming up with pianist Jason Moran for a series of live performances, some reprising the music Shepp made with Parlan, with takes on a few classics jazz compositions by John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. 

Shepp plays soprano saxophone on three of the album's seven tracks. Although his work on the smaller horn might not be as compelling as the gruff, rugged tenor tone, his reflective approach can be felt on both horns. At the end of both "Wise One" and "Round Midnight," he replicates the soprano by flying into the altissimo register of the tenor. He moves at a more measured pace with this music, never erupting in the manner that he did in his early days. But the way he ends some phrases with dissonant passages in the high register indicates that he could breathe more fire if he felt the need. A highlight comes in "Lush Life" as he cues the in-tempo section with some low honks from the tenor. It sets up a groove that Moran runs with, going into a slightly Latin rhythm.

A few tracks feature the saxophonist adding vocals in the final chorus. His baritone voice also has an understated quality, which might come across as a little ragged. But to my ears, he adds to the music, giving the lyrics to "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" some extra credibility. In "Lush Life" he scales the song's unique melody with ease, adding vibrato to his voice, making this contribution a key element to the whole arrangement.

Moran shows a strong rapport with the elder statesmen, playing spare when Shepp needs room to open up and adding heavy blues accents and upper register flourishes to "Motherless Child." His solo in "Wise One" - essentially the album's centerpiece at 13 minutes - relies heavily on chords rather than single line melodies and the energy is contagious. 

"Round Midnight" has been played umpteen times by umpteen jazz musicians. Shepp and Moran clearly realize that and make sure to give it their own collective stamp. A few later tracks  in the album feature audience applause from two European jazz festivals where these recordings were made. "Round Midnight" on the other hand, closes this album tightly with no room or need for the audience to respond. After all that, the applause would really be superfluous. 

Shepp and Moran seem to have a kindred connection that might be similar to what the former had with the late Horace Parlan. Things might move slowly and deliberately on this album, but sometimes deeper conversations work that way. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Barbie Likes To Die...again

Sometimes I forget to toot my own horn on all forums. Two weeks ago, the first vinyl album I ever was ever part of (come to think of it, the only vinyl album I've been part of) was remastered and re-released digitally on Bandcamp - exactly 31 years to the day after its original release. 

Bone of Contention was my first band. Playing in a band was a lifelong dream, at least from the time I was about six, but it didn't happen until I was 18. The recording took a little bit longer, We recorded 48 Points of View when I was 21 and it finally came out a few months after my 22nd birthday. It was a self-released album, on Igor Records, the name coming from guitarist Lila Shaara's ornery but loveable cat. When you're in charge of releasing your own music, you can make crazy decisions like that. 

When you're in charge of your musical fate like that, you can also determine whose ears come in contact with the music. We did send copies to radio stations around the country and a few publications, who had some pretty complimentary things to say about it. Some radio stations latched onto a song called "Barbie Likes to Die," a spoken-word-and-music tale about the hapless Mattel character. The Bone - as we called ourselves - weren't a joke band, but we did swing widely between wry humor and dead serious subjects. "Barbie" did have a small but enthusiastic group of fans. I know because some of them have tracked me down through this blog, looking for a copy of the song. Now that the song - along with the other 12 from the album - are up on Bandcamp, maybe we can make a connection with them. Probably not, because that's the way the internet works (anonymity), but you never know. Here's where you can find it. 

I don't want to ramble on at length about why I think the album is wonderful. But it was the first time I had been involved in something like this (notwithstanding a made-in-the-basement 4-track cassette from two years prior). For that reason it occupies a special place in my life. The band was kind of unique too because there weren't many bands around then where everyone wrote and sang. If you need anymore thoughts on it, there are a few on the Bandcamp set. Check it out and give a listen.