The three albums tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp
recorded in Paris for BYG Records during one week in August 1969 tend to get overlooked in the slipstream of the dozen or so he made in the US for Impulse earlier in the decade. More is the pity, for as Blasé And Yasmina Revisited
so resoundingly attests, the BYGs contain some of the most audacious, many splendored and deep roots music that Shepp has recorded in his still-kicking career (at the time of writing, it has just been announced that Shepp will perform at London's Barbican in November 2021 accompanied by pianist Jason Moran
Part of the Swiss-based ezz-thetics label's Revisited series of remastered avant-garde classics from the 1960s, Blasé And Yasmina Revisited
covers two of the BYG LPs: Blasé
, in its entirety, and the side-long title track of Yasmina, A Black Woman
. The mix 'n' match cast of players Shepp assembled for the albums, from American musicians who happened to be in Paris at the time, range from New Thing radicals such as himself, pianist Dave Burrell
and drummer Sunny Murray
, fellow travelers trumpeter Lester Bowie
, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell
and bassist Malachi Favors
from the Art Ensemble Of Chicago
, hard-bop drum masters Philly Joe Jones
and Art Taylor
, Chicago bluesman, harmonica player Julio Finn
, and in a category-defying class of her own, the singer Jeanne Lee
. (Also present on Yasmina, A Black Woman
, but not heard on the title track, is hard-bop tenor player Hank Mobley
The six tracks on the ezz-thetics album tell the story of African American jazz from its African roots through the blues and swing and on to the New Thing. For convenience, they can be considered here in three parts. First up are the four tracks featuring the divine Miss Lee: two Shepp originals, "My Angel," a primal Delta blues in which Shepp somehow twice transforms his tenor sound momentarily into that of Elmore Leonard's slide guitar, and "Blasé," a skeletal and sepulchral retro-modern roots workout; the traditional spiritual "There Is A Balm In Gilead," which includes trumpet obbligatos going on solos from Lester Bowie; and Duke Ellington
's sensual ballad "Sophisticated Lady," which is featured in the YouTube clip below. Lee reaches inside each of these varied songs to reveal breathtaking degrees of beauty. They are her tracks as much as they are Shepp's.
The second of the album's three parts is Blasé
's closing 9:18 track, "Touareg." On the preceding Lee tracks, Shepp's solos were foreshortened to accommodate the vocals. He turns in terrific ones on "My Angel" and "Sophisticated Lady," but none of the extended, visceral, sonic adventures for which he was at the time best known. "Touareg," on which he is accompanied only by Malachi Favors and Philly Joe Jones, delivers that.
The third and final part is "Yasmina." In August 1969, Shepp had just returned from performing at the Pan-African Festival in Algiers, North Africa and "Yasmina," with two double basses, two kit drummers and two percussionists, is vividly evocative of Maghrebi music, particularly the trance music of sub-Saharan-in-origin Sufi brotherhoods such as the Gnawa, with whom Shepp had jammed during the festival.
Mix these three parts together and prepare to have your endorphins turned up to eleven.
Historical footnote: The studio supervisor for Blasé
was the "colourful" French-born Greek producer Jean Georgakarakos, aka Jean Karakos. In the 1980s, Karakos was the brains (and great ears) behind the Paris-based Celluloid record label, which at the time was the platform for New York avant-funk and future-jazz bassist and producer Bill Laswell
. Karakos had kept in touch with Julio Finn, heard on the first two Blasé
tracks, and brought him to the attention of Laswell, who included Finn on several of his 1984-85 productions. Alongside his great harmonica playing, Finn is a connoisseur of Cuban cigars, about which he wrote a short but authoritative treatise, and while in London in 1984 he set up the Pancho Sanchez dining club, whose get togethers concluded with the ritual smoking of fine cigars. But that is another story.
My Angel; Blasé; There Is A Balm In Gilead; Sophisticated Lady; Touareg; Yasmina.
Archie Shepp: tenor saxophone, voice (6);
Roscoe Mitchell: bass saxophone (6);
Jeanne Lee: voice (1-4);
Julio Finn: harmonica (1, 2);
Clifford Thornton: cornet (6);
Lester Bowie: trumpet (3, 6), flugelhorn (3);
Malachi Favors: double bass;
Earl Freeman: double bass (6);
Philly Joe Jones: drums (1, 2, 4-6);
Sunny Murray: drums (6);
Art Taylor: rhythm logs (6);
Laurence Devereaux: balafon (6).