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Archie Shepp: Fire Music To Mama Too Tight Revisited

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Archie Shepp: Fire Music To Mama Too Tight Revisited
In 2022, it is widely accepted that, when free jazz (aka the New Thing) was in its ascent in New York in the 1960s, there was, despite superficial appearances, no fundamental incompatibility between it and the historical jazz tradition. More contentiously, revisionist historians are now suggesting that there was no real conflict between New Thing and changes-based or modal-based musicians either.

They should try telling that to Archie Shepp. In autumn 1966, during the Miles Davis quintet's engagement at the Village Vanguard, Shepp went backstage between sets and asked if he could sit in. Davis declined the offer, no doubt in his normal charming manner. But Shepp was not to be denied. Come the next set, he climbed on the bandstand and joined in anyway.

In Miles: The Autobiography (Simon and Schuster, 1989), Davis takes up the story: "He was so awful that I just walked off the bandstand. He couldn't play, and I wasn't going to stand up there with this no-playing motherfucker." The British trumpeter and author Ian Carr, relating the same incident in Miles: A Critical Biography (Quartet, 1982), suggests that another reason Davis walked off the stand was because, having minutes earlier rejected Shepp's request, he could not handle the shock of discovering that: "Now, it seemed that there was a new generation of musicians who were not in awe of Miles Davis" and were prepared to invade his performance space against his wishes. Certainly, it was rude for Shepp to do what he did, and Davis, though he enjoyed being spectacularly rude himself, did not like being on the receiving end of it.

Deep down, however, there was, as noted above, no conflict between the New Thing and the jazz tradition as music. But acceptance of that fact today has been eased by the passage of time. Back in the day, the din of perceived iconoclasm was loud and a listener had to have an open mind, and more especially open ears, to hear what lay beyond it. Some musicians and writers possessed such openness, most prominently John Coltrane and LeRoi Jones (as Amiri Baraka was then known). But many, including Davis, did not. Indeed, it is possible Davis' on-going late-period fixation with regaining his cutting-edge reputation, often to the detriment of his actual music, began here.

Whatever. Anyway, there are no better proofs that the New Thing, iconoclastic though it appeared on the surface, was indeed part of the established jazz continuum, than Archie Shepp's albums Fire Music (Impulse!, 1965) and Mama Too Tight (Impulse!, 1966). Not for nothing did LeRoi Jones cite Shepp's reputation as a "new wave Ben Webster." The material on the albums ranges from vamp-driven R&B-derived pieces, such as "Mama Too Tight," through polyphonic collective improvisations, such as sections of the nineteen-minute "A Portrait Of Robert Thompson (As A Young Man)," taking in Duke Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Girl From Ipanema" along the way. All are viewed and presented by Shepp as part of a single, unifying aesthetic which approximates to the Chicago-based Association for The Advancement Of Creative Musicians' contemporaneously-born concept of Great Black Music.

Fire Music and Mama Too Tight have in summer 2022 been reissued in their entirety on one CD, as part of the ezz-thetics label's Revisited series. The albums are presented chronologically in their original running orders, bar one change. Werner Uehlinger, ezz-thetics' director, has moved the spoken-voice based trio-track "Malcolm, Malcolm, Semper Malcolm" from its original position as track three of Fire Music to become track five, that album's closer. It does, indeed, give the other four tracks, recorded by a sextet a few weeks earlier, more cohesion.

But the big deal, as always with the Revisited discs, is that Fire Music and Mama Too Tight have been remastered by one of ezz-thetics' specialist engineers, in this instance the sonic jedi Michael Brändli, who brings significantly enhanced presence, clarity and depth to the music.

Track Listing

Fire Music: Hambone; Los Olvidados; Prelude To A Kiss; The Girl From Ipanema; Malcolm, Malcolm, Semper Malcolm. Mama Too Tight: A Portrait Of Robert Thompson (As A Young Man); Mama Too Tight; Theme For Ernie; Basheer.

Personnel

Archie Shepp: saxophone, tenor; Marion Brown: saxophone, alto; Ted Curson: trumpet; Joseph Orange: trombone; Reggie Johnson: bass, acoustic; Joe Chambers: drums; David Izenzon: bass, acoustic; J.C. Moses: drums; Perry Robinson: clarinet; Tommy Turrentine: trumpet; Grachan Moncur III: trombone; Roswell Rudd: trombone; Howard Johnson: tuba; Charlie Haden: bass, acoustic; Beaver Harris: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Archie Shepp: tenor saxophone; Marion Brown: alto saxophone (1-4); Ted Curson: trumpet (1-4); Joseph Orange: trombone (1-4); Reggie Johnson: double bass (1-4); Joe Chambers: drums (1-4); David Izenzon: double bass (5); J.C. Moses: drums (5); Perry Robinson: clarinet (6-9); Tommy Turrentine: trumpet (6-9); Grachan Moncur lll: trombone (6-9); Roswell Rudd: trombone (6-9); Howard Johnson: tuba (6-9); Charlie Haden: double bass (6-9); Beaver Harris: drums (6-9).

Album information

Title: Fire Music To Mama Too Tight Revisited | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Ezz-thetics


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