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Archie Shepp: Attica Blues

Trevor MacLaren By

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Archie Shepp
Attica Blues
Impulse!
1972

In November of 2004, the world stage is set on the American election. In a post-9/11 world the masses have become paranoid, tense and angry. At the forefront is George W. Bush's foreign policy. Thirty years ago artists found themselves in a similar plight with Richard M. Nixon's home and foreign policies as well. With the push of attack in Vietnam, the murders at Kent State and violence in urban areas and prisons, many felt the same disillusion that we feel now. With Michael Moore getting Peter Davis's genius 1974 antiwar documentary Hearts and Minds back in theaters, it is time to reevaluate the jazz's role as a vehicle of social commentary. None set the stage better that Archie Shepp's Attica Blues.

Never one to be close-lipped about his anger at U.S. society or its actions, Archie Shepp delivered Attica Blues on the heels of the Attica Prison massacre. Every time Shepp's breath hits the reeds he creates an emotional vibe which all of his records have displayed. Attica Blues has all his in your face sound even though he isn't ripping jagged shards as he had in the past. The record still displays emotional angst that is every bit as powerful and distraught as Davis's celluloid images. The tracks have the deep soul of all of Shepp's finest such as On This Night and Four By Trane. The difference is Archie utilizes the arrangements as the forefront while his horn simmers in the background like an angry voice needing to be heard.

Attica opens with the title track that jams urban funk while Shepp's chops ride underneath, one doesn't have to go much further to understand that Shepp has some new ideas up his sleeve. Moving forward from the palate of just free jazz, the title track employs a cornucopia of Afro-American music such as r&b and touches of gospel. The funk that chops out of this track is certainly a preview of the acid-jazz that groups like Groove Collective and Martin, Medeski and Wood would popularize in the 90s, but it certainly stands up to any popular funk that bands such as The Meters and Sly Stone produced in the same era. Although the subject matter is dark, the preparations are textured with upbeat styles.


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