All About Jazz needs your help and we have a deal. Pay $20 and we'll hide those six pesky Google ads that appear on every page, plus this box and the slideout box on the right for a full year! You'll also fund website expansion.
Saxophonist Archie Shepp wrote "Attica Blues" in 1972, not long after a five-day uprising at that New York state prison left thirty-nine people dead, twenty-nine of whom were inmates. Now, more than forty years later, Shepp's Attica Blues Orchestra (comprised for the most part of French musicians) has resurrected the "Blues" and made it the linchpin of a new album, I Hear the Sound, which includes five more compositions by Shepp, three by Cal Massey, one by pianist Amina Claudine Myers and Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday," arranged by Ernie Wilkins.
The strident, toe-tapping "Blues," which opens with guitars and hand-clapping, has a lyric that pivots around the phrase "I got a feelin.'" There are other words, largely incomprehensible, that no doubt have earnest meaning in the context of Attica. Myers' "Arms," which follows, is a love song, not a serenade to the Second Amendment, and that may be Myers singing (no credits are given). Again, the lyric is no doubt heartfelt but otherwise prosaic. A second blues, this one for "Brother G. Jackson," has a nice beat, some fastidious choral work and a trustworthy tenor solo, presumably by Shepp. The tenor is front and center again on a slow-moving version of "Come Sunday," which sounds about as charming as it ever has, thanks in part to admirable vocals by Shepp, Marion Rampal and Cecile McLorin-Savant (the last two are educated guesses).
Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire is a welcome guest on Massey's "The Cry of My People," another dirge-like hymn that underscores the album's purposeful gravity. Massey wrote the tasteful "Quiet Dawn," which uses a small string section, and "Goodbye Sweet Pops," also with strings, a straight-ahead swinger on which Shepp (apparently) switches to soprano sax. Nice solos all round from (two) trumpets, trombone and piano. Shepp's other originals"Déjà Vu," "Steam," "Ballad for a Child," "Mama Too Tight"have their moments, especially the Gospel-inflected "Mama," on which Shepp's robust tenor sets the pace for animated solos by trombone and trumpet. Splendid work by the ensemble (a constant throughout) and vocalists. For those who appreciate big-band jazz that is resolutely modern even as it embraces the inbred heritage of the blues.
Track Listing: Attica Blues; Arms; Blues for Brother G. Jackson; Come Sunday; The Cry of My People; Quiet Dawn; Déjà Vu; Steam; Goodbye Sweet Pops; Ballad for a Child; Mama Too Tight.
Personnel: Archie Shepp: leader, composer, arranger, tenor sax, soprano sax, voice; Jimmy Owens: conductor; Stephane Belmondo: trumpet; Izidor Leitinger: trumpet; Christophe Leloil: trumpet; Olivier Miconi: trumpet; Raphael Imbert: alto sax; Olivier Chaussade: alto sax; Francois Theberge: tenor sax; Virgile Lefebvre: tenor sax; Jean-Philippe Scali: baritone sax; Sebastian Llado: trombone; Simon Sieger: trombone; Romain Morello: trombone; Michael Ballue: trombone; Manon Tenoudji: violin; Steve Duong: violin; Antoine Carlier: viola; Louise Rosbach: cello; Amina Claudine Myers: piano, voice; Tom McClung: piano; Reggie Washington: bass; Famoudou Don Moye: drums, congas; Marion Rampal: voice; Cecile McLorin Salvant: voice. Special guests — Ambrose Akinmusire: trumpet (5); Darryl Hall: bass (5); Jean-Claude Andre: conductor (5).