It's been more than three decades since saxophonist Archie Shepp and trombonist Roswell Rudd recorded together, and Live In New York reunites them in a perfect setting: live performance. To get the record clear, these two players helped bear the flag for free jazz during its dimmest, darkest years: the period from the end of the '60s till the present. With this all-star band, every musician brings mastery to the ensemble. The inclusion of the Grachan Moncur's second voice on the trombone, in particular, adds a welcome degree of depth.
The tunes on Live In New York are all originals. They range from the opener, Rudd's 1965 composition "Keep Your Heart Right" to the brand-new composition "Slide By Slide." Shepp, as has been his custom of late, doesn't just stick to the tenor: he sings and plays piano as well. Both contributions enrich the ensemble sound. Shepp's piano work helps provide a harmonic framework for some of these tunes, and his off- kilter piano solos (as well as his tone in general on many of these compositions) poignantly recall the music of Herbie Nichols. On tunes like "Steam" he sings the melody (and scats as well) in an unpretentious, crusty, throaty stylepunctuating the vocal element with intermittent piano jabs.
As time has progressed, these players have mellowed. Nobody here has anything left to prove. To lovers of the '60s avant-garde (which essentially formed the roots of what today would be termed free improvisation), every single member of this group has deomstrated his personal mastery. So where to go from here? The leaders on this date (Shepp and Rudd) travel where their heart takes them, which usually means a standard-oriented organization with scattered trips "out." Tunes on Live In New York root themselves firmly in formal melody and harmonic progressions, but the players take welcome liberties during solos and during occasional group improvisations.
Live In New York projects a sense of loose comradery, reflecting the years these players spent together learning each other's personality and voice. It's a particularly remarkable document for Rudd, who up until fairly recently had been keeping off the recording circuit. His trombone playing here is rich and colorful, full of vitality and a sense of discovery. This disc would make a fine vehicle for listeners interested in taking a step "out" without leaping in that direction. The seemingly paradoxical looseness and tightness of this band offers a wealth of momentum and mystery. Live In New York appeals to lovers of the jazz tradition, in all its rich variety... blues, spoken word, swing, vocals, and solo flight all find a place on this disc. It's a fine document by any standard.
Personnel: Archie Shepp: tenor saxophone, piano, vocals; Roswell Rudd: trombone; Reggie Workman: bass; Andrew Cyrille: drums; Grachan Moncur III: trombone; Amiri Baraka: poetry.