Archie Shepp. Now there's a name that commands respect and enthusiasm simultaneously and for damn good reason. Not only for a body of work over decades but just as much for a rather striking release in 1972 that refused to let yet another government slaughter lie undisturbed and unquestioned: the Attica Prison Massacre where state troopers gunned down rioting prisoners and facility hostages alike, killing 39. The Kent State murders apparently hadn't sated the law apparatus' lust for blood two years earlier, so Attica provided a…hmmm, how shall I put this?…convenient alternative scenario with far more in the way of helpless victims. One of the reasons for the riot in the first place was an inhuman overcrowding at the facility. Over a period of more than 40 years, has that changed?
Shepp writes in the liner notes: 'Certainly some gave their lives hoping to change the world. Unfortunately, not much has changed. Perhaps in some way, we are all prisoners'. Amen. And if not by direct jailing, then by debt slavery and all the multiplicit joys capitalism has brought us. To answer the question, though: Shepp is quite correct. Today, Attic is still overcrowded, the prison industrial complex persecutes and prosecutes Black Americans more than ever, houses victimless crime (drug) inmates to the tune of 50-75% of its population, and there's a satanic amount of money to be made in them thar hell-holes manned by sadists, morons, and rednecks (hm, did I just commit a triple redundancy?).
Nonetheless, and probably because it sure as shit looks like we're heading in that direction again but in an even greater grand mal seizure this time, Archie decided it was high time to re-constitute the politics, the protestation, and the groove…especially the groove. He protests that this isn't jazz, that it's blues, but it is jazz, and it's blues, and it's soul, and it's neoclassical, and it's a bit avant-garde, and it's every inch as good now as then, but with a bonus: live from France this time. The original Attica Blues was an experiment and paved the way for the marvelous work Anthony Davis and others would later undertake.
So's ya knows, this isn't really quite Attica Blues redux. That knock-ya-on-yer-ear slice ran thusly:
…but this one drops Invocation To Mr. Parker then adds four cuts in its place plus two more downloadable numbers, bringing the total time to 90 minutes, the equivalent of a twofer and then some.
The liner is mostly in French and je parle le langue de belle France un peu, tres peu, and I don't want to mix up its credits with its thanks and tributes in my pidgin-franglish reading ability, so I'll merely say the band is to die for, larded up with no end of melody, squonk, solos, angularity, and tight orchestration; in other words: Shepp is as much the lion as ever. People forget that he was, in the 60s, a feared radical and playwright, called "perhaps the most articulate and disturbing member of the free generation" but also an artist of daring and resource. Even the cat I consider to be the sax god, Jan Garbarek, was strongly influenced by Shepp, not to mention many others. More, the mighty saxist is 76 on this gig and still able to wail his brains out as well as finesse the score from here to Sheboygan.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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