Picks and Pans Review: Down Home New York
One of the huskiest and most arresting tenor-sax voices of the '60s avant-garde belonged to Archie Shepp. Raised in Philadelphia, he first turned up in pianist Cecil Taylor's fervid group around 1960, played on John Coltrane's landmark 1965 Ascension LP and recorded some of the decade's most memorable expressions of black pride and Africanism, such as Fire Music, Mama Too Tight and The Magic of JuJu. In recent years the traditionalist in Shepp has come to the fore, and he has worked with older musicians such as drummer Philly Joe Jones and recorded an album interpreting tunes of Charlie Parker. Shepp's latest album is bluesy and accessible. Sad to say, the weakest link is his own playing. The old husky urgency of tone has turned erratic and disjointed, at times almost flatulent. Articulation is sloppy. Worse, Shepp's phrases are blunt and tentative; he sounds as if he is still warming up or is just plain tired. The effect is oafish and teetering, even allowing for what may be a calculated effect. Shepp is to be commended for one thing—unearthing John Coltrane's tune Straight Street, a seldom recorded masterpiece of hard bop from Coltrane's 1957 album, First Trane. Its sinuous, coiling energy survives even Shepp's mangling. (Soul Note)
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