Paired with German pianist Siegfried Kessler, Archie Shepp finds himself in an evocative mood on First Take. Recorded live in France, they perform an intimate and at times haunting set of six tunes. The disc begins with the 22-minute sojourn of "Les Matin de Noirs" ("The Morning of the Blacks"). A surprisingly smooth ride, considering its length, the opening number goes a long way to ease and convince the listener of the album's gentle vibe. Shepp never pushes and Kessler never insists, resulting in an intricate, musical dance of subtleties and niceties.
Versions of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life," Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," and Shepp's most recognizable composition, "Steam," are done with melodic care and structural freedom. The progressions of these songs rely greatly on the mood and feel of the duo and, many times, they wonderfully depart from commonly known versions. The "Misterioso/California Blues" medley, in particular, sways nicely to the suggestive winds of sorrow and hope. The closing number, Shepp's "Ujaama," deviates from the album's other songs by actually preserving its inherent, tight, straight-ahead groove. Even here, though, Shepp and Kessler's symbiotic relationship is what best defines the music.
An impressive, worthwhile album, First Take is being released on Archie Shepp's new label, his own Archie Ball Records.
Track Listing: Le Matin De Noirs; Lush Life; Don't Get Around Much Anymore; Steam; Misterioso-
California Blues; Ujaama.