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. 

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