May 24, 2024

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CD review: Archie Shepp – Four For Trane To Live Newport 1964 Revisited – 2023: Video, CD cover

Influenced by and working with John Coltrane, saxophonist and composer Archie Shepp paid tribute to ‘Trane with his 1965 Impulse! album Four for Trane, here remastered and joined with tracks from the live album John Coltrane/Archie Shepp: New Thing At Newport, accompanied on each by acclaimed free jazz players including Roswell Rudd, John Tchicai, Reggie Workman, Barre Phillips, Joe Chambers, &c.

“The twelve months between August 1964 and August 1965 were particularly creative and consequential regarding the documentation of jazz’s avant-garde. Among other adventurous and soon-to-be-proven-influential sessions, Blue Note recorded Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill, and Bobby Hutcherson; ESP debuted Pharoah Sanders, rediscovered Sun Ra, continued their advocacy of Albert Ayler, and introduced the New York Art Quartet (with Roswell Rudd and John Tchicai, an outgrowth of the New York Contemporary 5); while Impulse sustained John Coltrane through A Love Supreme and Ascension, and, most relevant to the issue at hand, brought Archie Shepp into the studio for the first album completely under his own control.

On second thought, perhaps the word “completely” is a slight overstatement. That is to say, the initial concept behind Four For Trane – a younger, lesser-known, first-time-on-his-own saxophonist paying homage to the leader of the music’s progressive wing with a program of his compositions – was likely the brainstorm of label producer Bob Thiele. Not that Shepp was liable to object; though he had served his apprenticeship with Cecil Taylor and the New York Contemporary 5 from 1960- 64, he considered Coltrane to be his mentor. They played informally often in Philadelphia (though both were born elsewhere, and Coltrane was eleven years older, they were part of the city’s vital music scene as early as the 1950s), and Coltrane frequently allowed Shepp to sit in on club gigs for years after, as well as including him on A Love Supreme‘s alternate takes and Ascension. And it was at Coltrane’s suggestion that Thiele signed Shepp to an Impulse contract.

Nevertheless, it is all to Shepp’s credit that Four For Trane became one of the classic, iconic albums of the post-bop era. The explanation is threefold. First, the material. Rather than follow Coltrane’s lead into the most extreme of his free-blowing anthems, Shepp selected three songs from the Giant Steps album, and one from Coltrane Plays The Blues (although “Cousin Mary,” from the former release, is also a twelve-bar blues). This is significant because it illuminates the two sides of Shepp’s conceptual perspective – an urgency to affirmatively affect the conditions of racial respect and equality in society through radical artistic (music and the written word) endeavors, counterbalanced by a devotion to the traditional expressions (especially the blues and gospel roots learned from his parents) of the African American community.

Second, the remarkable arrangements of the material. Expanding these quartet pieces for a sextet, Shepp’s vision (and Roswell Rudd’s reorganization of “Naima”) transforms their once-straightforward designs into dramatic tone poems, adding introductions, riffs, contrapuntal textures, and instrumental colors. These charts (and those of Shepp’s subsequent albums such as Fire Music and Mama Too Tight) became the blueprint for the ambitious mid-sized groups of David Murray and Henry Threadgill in the 1980s. Third, the ensemble. Each player contributes details emphatic and subtle as called for, the whole being greater than the individual parts. But Shepp’s explosive solos stand out – they inaugurate a powerful, personal style (with his entrance on “Syeeda’s Song Flute” as an example) – wildly chromatic, intensely lyrical, abstractly shaped, and vocalized with tonal effects.

Still and all, it is the inclusion of Shepp’s composition “Rufus (swung, his face at last to the wind, then his neck snapped)” that provides the symbolic link connecting his socio-musical attitudes throughout his early career. Shepp recorded “Rufus” four times, twice with the NYC5 on 23 August 1963 (one version without Don Cherry), again on Four For Trane, and at the live performance at Newport in 1965. Though the title describes the horrific events of a lynching, the music is not specifically programmatic, while alternating calm and agitated statements.

Although limited to a quartet at Newport, probably due to economic reasons, Shepp concentrated on his own compositions, and their titles reveal a commitment to the 1960s civil rights movement, intensified by the assassination of Malcolm X six months earlier. “Gingerbread, Gingerbread Boy” (not to be confused with Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy”) takes its title from a 19th century folk tale concerning a figure running to save its life, but doomed to defeat. “Call Me By My Rightful Name” was the title of a 1961 off-Broadway play by Michael Shurtleff involving an interracial love triangle, but also implies the loss of identity during slavery. “Scag” is Shepp’s agonizing poem confronting drug abuse in the ghetto. And “Le Matin des Noire,” the morning of the blacks, as related by Nat Hentoff in the album’s original liner notes, is not only the promise of a new day of freedom, but also the mourning that accompanies the struggle to achieve that goal. The music at Newport, though compacted from his larger ensemble, surveys emotional states and musical qualities ranging from tenderness to turbulence, stretches dynamics and instrumental timbres to extremes, and questions the boundaries of intent and impact.

Metaphors of freedom, beauty in the face of conflict, and control on the edge of chaos, energize these distinctive recordings. The eloquence, and complexity, of these tones and moods, occasioned by Archie Shepp’s artistry and social conscience, make this music all the more compelling, then and now.”


Archie Shepp-tenor saxophone

John Tchicai-alto saxophone

Roswell Rudd-trombine

Alan Shorter-fluegelhorn

Reggie Workman-double bass

Charles Moffett-drums

Bobby Hutcherson-vibraphone

Barre Phillips-double bass

Joe Chambers-drums

Archie Shepp: Four For Trane To Live Newport 1965 Revisited album review @ All About Jazz

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