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Archie Shepp: Archie Shepp And The New York Contemporary Five

Chris Mosey By

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The New Thing is now old hat; all those squawking saxophones, blipping trumpets and discordant piano explorations a thing of the past. With its arrival in the early 1960s, jazz reached the end of its historical road.

The New Thing wasn't The Shape Of Jazz To Come, as an Ornette Coleman album title had it. It was simply the final stop on the music's path from New Orleans. This, and all the other stops, could be revisited in later years but there could no longer be the pretence that jazz as a whole was progressing, or moving forward, as it had done in the past.

The New Thing focused largely on individual improvisation with no need to base that improvisation on chord changes or scales. The soloist was given total freedom... at least that was the idea.

Tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp was in the second division of the movement behind leaders like Coleman and pianist Cecil Taylor, with whom he played.

The original sleeve note on this album—part of Storyville's Vinyl Remasters series—says of Shepp's band, The New York Contemporary Five, that these, its first recordings in 1963, were being made in Copenhagen because "almost no American record companies could be persuaded to invest in music of this kind." As a result, the venue for them, Copenhagen's Jazzhus Montmartre, was set to become "the Minton's Playhouse of the sixties."

Instead—alas!—it became a venue for heavy metal bands, as the public defected en masse to rock.

Listening to this album is a little like poking around a dark, musty room abandoned for years. In it the NYCF—first New Thing band to feature three horns—ploughs a heroic furrow. There is a sense of battle being joined against the forces of reaction as Don Cherry's "Cisum," (music backwards), opens with a fanfare. A kind of organized chaos follows, the squawking and blipping interlaced with blessed moments of coherence.

Coleman's influence hangs heavily over the proceedings. The NYCF play two of his compositions, "O.C." and "When Will The Blues Leave?," the latter from his 1958 album Something Else!!!!.

"The Funeral" is a Shepp original but refers back to the funeral parades of New Orleans, as it adheres to a valid tenet of Coleman's music: the need to re-examine the role of collective improvisation in jazz, ignored following Louis Armstrong's establishment of the soloist as the dominant force. Cherry's trumpet sputters fitfully over J. C. Moses' jagged drumming, before chirping birdlike interjections on Shepp's solo.

But, try as one might to find justifications for it, two sad facts remain: even at this distance, the New Thing remains extremely difficult to listen to; and it gave birth to a great deal of prejudice against jazz as a whole.

Track Listing: Side A: Cisum; Crepuscule With Nellie; O.C. Side B: When Will The Blues Leave?; The Funeral; Mick.

Personnel: Archie Shepp: tenor saxophone; Don Cherry: trumpet; John Tchicai: alto saxophone; Don Moore: bass; J. C. Moses: drums.

Title: Archie Shepp And The New York Contemporary Five | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Storyville Records

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