Tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp, who was one of the enfant terribles of the free jazz generation in the 1960s, once said, seemingly uncharacteristically, "You can hear every minute of every hour of every day of every year a player puts into practicing his horn when he plays a ballad." He was being prophetic, of course, as this date from 1992 suggests. Teamed with pianist Horace Parlan – with whom he recorded the magnificent duet of spirituals Goin' Home – bassist Wayne Dockery, and drummer Steve McCraven, Shepp leads the quartet through an astonishing series of ballads that are as revelatory for their understatement as they are for their musical aplomb.
From 1964, Archie Shepp's first date as a leader featured – as one would expect from the title – four tunes by John Coltrane, his mentor, his major influence, and his bandleader. The fact that this album holds up better than almost any of Shepp's records nearly 40 years after the fact has plenty to do with the band he chose for this session, and everything to do with the arranging skills of trombonist Roswell Rudd. The band here is Shepp on tenor, John Tchicai on alto, Rudd on trombone, Trane's bassist Reggie Workman, and Ornette Coleman's drummer Charles Moffett. Even in 1964, this was a powerhouse, beginning with a bluesed-out wailing version of "Syeeda's Song Flute." This version is ingenious, with Shepp allowing Rudd to arrange for solos for himself and Tchicai up front and Rudd punching in the blues and gospel in the middle, before giving way to double time by Workman and Moffett. The rawness of the whole thing is so down-home you're ready to tell someone to pass the butter beans when listening.
In their series of Jazz greats, TDK release on DVD the first part of a jazz night in Torino in 1977 with famed sax player Archie Shepp and his Quartet. Archie Shepp was much discussed among jazz fans during the 1970s as it was becoming increasingly clear that a profound change was taking place in his approach to music and even his physical appearance. For years he had been the embodiment of black resistance, dressing in traditional African garments and protesting against the suppression of black people. But now he was wearing suits and had given up his free style of playing in favour of interpretations of known pieces from the jazz tradition. Inevitably, the changes upset some people and pleased others. But Shepp never made it easy to judge him, and ignoring the talk he went ahead on his straight path, which had already led him to a place among the jazz greats while he was still a young man.
From the outset, Archie Shepp's terminally misunderstood Attica Blues on Impulse during the 1970s was an attempt by the saxophonist and composer to bring together the various kinds of African American musics under one heading and have them all express the conscience of the day. His ensemble featured singers, string players, horns, drums, guitars, etc. The sounds were a Gordian knot of jazz, free music, R&B, soul, groove, and even funk. In 1979 Shepp was given the opportunity to realize the project with an ensemble of his choosing at the Palais des Glaces in Paris (New York was already courting Wimpton Marsalis). Shepp chose 30 musicians and director/conductor Ray Copeland. Among the throng were saxophonists Marion Brown, John Purcell, Patience Higgins, and John Ware.