Now an octogenarian, Archie Shepp
's name is quite often spoken in the same sentence as that of John Coltrane
. Shepp was born a decade after Trane and is associated with the great one's 'New Thing' and 'Fire Music.' His music though, post-Ascension
(Impulse!, 1965), might be better equated to that of Billie Holiday
, who was born, incidentally, a decade before Coltrane. Just as Holiday presented her music (especially in the later years) in a frank, warts-and-all manner, Shepp has for decades produced his message with a stark, candid and almost fragile delivery.
This fragility, or better yet vulnerability, is the essence Shepp cognoscenti covet. His unguardedness is on full display in these seven duos with Jason Moran
. Culled from performances in 2017 and 2018, they draw a direct reference to the duos Shepp produced with Horace Parlan
in the 1980s. Like the Parlan dates, this duo leans heavily on spirituals and standards. "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," finds Shepp's soprano saxophone following the reverent opening by Moran, before Shepp sings the lyrics. The pair's performance builds upon Paul Robeson's rendition with a weight of world weariness. The same can be said of "Go Down Moses," which is delivered as a slow cortège of notes and voice. The pair tackle two Ellington-Strayhorn standards "Isfahan" and "Lush Life." The latter recalls the Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
version from 1963, yet gets stripped down to its essential elements. The same approach is taken on Thelonious Monk
's "Round Midnight," where Moran works from an unembellished framework and Shepp's tenor saxophone retells the much-loved story to listeners. Listeners have consumed it many times before, yet are keen for this comfort food. The highlight here may be Coltrane's "Wise One," where the two stretch out a bit on the thirteen-minute rendition. Shepp's tenor is robust yet delicate, and Moran's approach gets roisterous in support. This hour of music will certainly leave listeners wanting more.
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child; Isfahan; He Cares; Go Down Moses; Wise One; Lush Life; Round Midnight.