August 13, 2001
ROSWELL RUDD/ARCHIE SHEPP
Live in New York
Emarcy 013 482-2
Time changes everything, or if not time, age. At least that's the conclusion you can make about the fervent reception former enfants terribles Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd received when they reconvened a band they co-lead in the mid-1960s for a gig at a New York night club that lead to the recording of this accomplished CD.
In reality, the response shouldn't be much of a surprise. For between the updated tailgate forays trombonist Rudd introduced and the sophisticated piano and vocal (!) stylings of Shepp, this performance at the Jazz Standard — and think of the implications of that name — was probably the most accomplished mainstream show to hit Manhattan since the late Doc Cheatham's 1980s heyday.
That's because Rudd, Shepp and the other members of their combo should be regarded as the real jazz mainstreamers. With an average age of 63, and more than 200 years of playing experience among them, over the past 40 years these men have worked alongside such certified jazz giants as Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Jackie McLean and Cecil Taylor to extend the jazz tradition.
Yet the neo conservatives and major industry powers have tried to rewrite recent jazz history the same way Stalinists attempted to subvert the official Soviet experience. Dismissing these men as clueless, radical experiments, nothing of importance is supposed to have happened in jazz from 1965 to 1985.
LIVE IN New York puts a lie to that fiction. Working with a series of compositions that date from the 1960s to 2000, the players not only easily demonstrates their staying power, but also show how their advances are without question part of the jazz continuum.
Take the lovely unison trombone coda from the dual 'bones of Rudd and Grachan Moncur III on "Acute Motelitis". It's modern, original and perfectly completes this freebop excursion, which is also enlivened by a heavy, hearty Rudd solo. If tunes are still describes as finger snappers this is one par excellence.
Or what about Shepp's "Hope No.2", named after Elmo Hope, another outstanding bop pianist? Recreating the crying staccato tenor tone he gained notice for in the 1960s, he builds his solo out of little pods of wavering pitches. Later, as bassist Reggie Workman's steady rhythm and drummer Andrew Cyrille's rolls smooth the background, he begins chording the piano behind a blustery trombone solo, which is probably from Rudd.
Quasi-Dixieland, the nearly 12 minute "Slide By Slide" moves along on the bassist's diamond-hard tone as Rudd and Moncur make like Vic Dickenson and Jack Teagarden playing "Show Me The Way To Go Home". Floating on what seems to be a two beat feel from Cyrille — who, after all, did back up Coleman Hawkins as well as Cecil Taylor — the tune still changes tempo several times.
Unashamed of their past, the band members even make room for another 1960s icon, poet Amiri Baraka, on "We Are the Blues". Here he intones a verse honoring Coltrane backed up by suitably romantic (Shepp) and blowsy (Rudd) tones. Luckily too, he doesn't try to dominate the session, as he did on the recent New York Art Quartet reunion disc that also featured Rudd and Workman.
Mainstream encompasses the present as well. Rudd's composition "Bamako", written following a recent trip to Mali and built on a burning funk bottom, allows the band to let itself go to such an extent that Shepp even ventures into split tone territory. The exuberant "yeahs" that echo on that track continue on "Pazuzu", which mixes Shepp's slippery alto-like tone, a stunning Cyrille solo and protracted buzzes from the horns that reflecting the flying sand demons for which the song was named.
Time has taken some toll, though. There was a period when, due to intonation problems, Shepp couldn't play saxophone at all. He has improved, but doesn't seem to miss a chance to switch to piano and sing. "Deja-Vu" finds him warbling self-composed lyrics in a Billy Eckstine-influenced baritone. While "Steam", which began life as a blistering tenor showcase when Shepp recorded it in 1976, has become a sentimental piano-vocal feature that needs the other horns to make it palatable.
Shortcomings aside, this nearly 74 minute CD nicely situates these five men firmly in the jazz tradition. Not only is it more exciting than any five Young Lions projects you can cite, but it's fine listening on its own merits.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Keep Your Heart Right 2. Acute Motelitis 3. Steam* 4. Pazuzu 5. We Are The Blues^ 6. Ujamma 7. Bamako 8. Slide By Slide 9. Deja-Vu* 10. Hope No. 2
Personnel: Roswell Rudd, Grachan Moncur III (trombones); Archie Shepp (tenor saxophone, piano, vocals*); Reggie Workman (bass); Andrew Cyrille (drums); Amiri Baraka (poetry)^