Archie Shepp

St. Louis Blues (Jazz Magnet)

Record Reviews

Archie Shepp

St. Louis Blues (Jazz Magnet)

Change has never come easy. The traditional jazz renaissance has invigorated sales, but also left a lot of the music's true innovators in the dust. Many are perfectly comfortable marching down memory lane, locked in Ellingtonian half step, but the upheaval of the Sixties pulled jazz along for the ride, and a handful of avant-gardist torchbearers blazed trails the world has all but forgotten. Leading the charge was tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp. He's since done what those with money have told him to do in order to keep making albums, but on St. Louis Blues, a 1998 recording licensed from an Austrian label, he sounds re-energized and free of the constraints of the American commercial jazz marketplace. St. Louis is not free jazz, but rather hard blues, stripped down, and played with honesty. Shepp's like-minded trio takes brilliant turns, Richard Davis' walking bass often the saxophonist's sole accompaniment. Davis focuses attention on himself without being showy; he's a fascinating player who never runs low on good ideas. The woefully under-recorded Sunny Murray is no less dazzling here than he was with Cecil Taylor and Albert Ayler. Though he's on less than half of the disc, his fluid sense of time snaps the music to attention. Shepp rises above his rhythm section's challenge; his tone sounds more vibrant and pointed than it has in years. All told, there's not a moment of going through the motions. From the beginning, the band knew, and you will too. This one's special.

****

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