Archie Shepp is at the Iridium tonight through Saturday. hell yeah. here's a Q&A w/ the man that i did for Time Out. as you can imagine, a great deal was left on the cutting-room floor, but this gives a nice taste.
as does this... in the interview, Shepp cites his poem "Mama Rose"--written in '67 and still a staple of his repertoire--as an antecedent of rap. whether or not you buy that, it's a truly awesome work, one of the most successful spoken word pieces i've ever heard. this guy has really, really serious delivery. check out this incredible clip of Shepp performing the piece on YouTube (preceded by a great interview statement on Malcolm X):
[note: this is from Ron Mann's "Imagine the Sound," a brilliant 1981 doc on Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Paul Bley and Bill Dixon. anyone into avant-garde jazz NEEDS to see this. check it out here.]
i love how into the role Shepp gets, sort of looking around like, "Right? Right?" the language and the theatricality are just amazing. he is not kidding when he says this was rapping. also, note the similarity between his gravelly outcries (e.g., 3:03) and his trademark tone on tenor.
preparing for the conversation, i did a lot of listening and realized that i had never really reckoned with Shepp's discography. i've got to say that i think his Impulse recordings represent one of the most compelling bodies of work in '60s jazz. i had no real grasp of the way he'd weave free with blues and standards in these sort of suites. "Mama Too Tight" is where i'd steer anyone--there is no one else, esp in the so-called avant-garde, who was combining styles in the way that Shepp does on that record's "A Portrait of Robert Thompson (As a Young Man)."
you get a sort of free blowout at first that, on many--say--ESP or BYG discs, would've have simply been *it.* which is fine. but Shepp gives you more. the piece has an arc, a destination, a progression. his arrangements on this record and others like "Fire Music" are so lush, his deployment of the ensembles so skillful. if you don't know his Impulses, check them out; almost every one will surprise you. Shepp is emphatically NOT your average avant-tenor.
A Portrait of Robert Thompson (As a Young Man) - from Mama Too Tight, rec. 8/19/66
with Tommy Turrentine (tp) Grachan Moncur III, Roswell Rudd (tb) Howard Johnson (tu) Perry Robinson (cl) Archie Shepp (ts) Charlie Haden (b) Beaver Harris (d)
come on out to Iridium. show might be a bit low-key, but do not underestimate power of Shepp's blues and vox; Amina Claudine Myers, who's in his band, will certainly help with that. maybe they'll even break out some "Mama Rose"...