What better place than the Newport Jazz Festival, a historically tight-laced and conservative jazz forum, for the quartets of Coltrane and Shepp to pour out their soulful selves as libations for the masses? Prior to this 1963 concert the festival’s track record with adventurous jazz fare was checkered at best. Monk and Giuffre had played there in previous years, but the focus was undeniably on the accessible and the mainstream. Things had become so skewed that Charles Mingus, Max Roach felt obligated to organize a concurrent festival of their own in protest and were given the sobriquet The Newport Rebels. Coltrane’s immense popularity made him the perfect candidate to breach Newport’s defenses and in typical benevolent fashion he brought a host of his associates in tow for a unified siege on the senses and sensibilities of the audience. What a spectacle it must have been. Fortunately the tape machines were rolling.
As if in deference to the Newport jazz community’s naïveté toward the New Thing embarrassingly banal comments from Father Norman O’Conner preface and append Trane’s performance. The so-called ‘jazz priest’ demonstrates his ignorance by referring to Elvin Jones as a ‘kind of a newcomer to the world jazz.’ Mercifully his introductions are brief and the quartet works up a lengthy lather on “One Down, One Up” before launching into a burning rundown of “My Favorite Things.” Compared to other concert recordings by the quartet the first piece is just below par, though there’s still plenty of incendiary fireworks ignited by the four on second. Coltrane’s upper register tenor solo becomes so frenetic on “One Down, One Up” that there are moments where he moves off mic, but his soprano work on “My Favorite Things” is nothing short of astonishing, a blur of swirling harmonics that threatens split his horn asunder.
After Coltrane and crew have sufficiently anointed the Newport crowd in a monsoon of New Thing sentiments it’s Shepp’s turn. His set is a different bag, brimming with political overtones and barely contained dysphoria and his sound on tenor is an arresting amalgam of raspy coarseness and delicate lyricism. Hutcherson’s glowing vibes knit gossamer webs around the rhythmically free center accorded by Phillips and Chambers. It all comes to boil on the haunting “Scag” a tone poem fueled by Phillips acerbic bow, Hutcherson’s ghostly patterns and Shepp’s bone dry recitation that captures the loneliness of a junkie’s desperation. The stuttering starts and stops of “Rufus” carry the feeling of cultural dislocation even further referencing the brutality and finality of a lynching through musical means. Shepp and his partners were pulling no punches in exposing the captive audience to their art. A low-flying plane disrupts the opening of “Le Matin des Noire,” but the four players quickly regain direction and sink into a lush Noirish vamp that carries the tune to a close.
This new version of the disc marks the first time the original 3-track tapes of the concert have been remastered and they are given the royal treatment through 24-bit digital transfers. Also included for the first time is a beautiful facsimile of the Shepp album cover picturing the saxophonist with song charts and horn.
Tracks:Spoken introduction to John Coltrane’s set by Father Norman O’Conner/ One Down, One Up/ My Favorite Things/ Spoken conclusion to John Coltrane’s set by Father Norman O’Connr/ Spoken introduction to Archie Shepp’s set by Billy Taylor/ Gingerbread, Gingerbread Boy/ Call Me By My Rightful Name/ Scag/ Rufus (Swung His Face at Last to the Wind, Then His Neck Snapped)/ Le Matin des Noire.
Players:John Coltrane- soprano & tenor saxophones; McCoy Tyner- piano; Jimmy Garrison- bass; Elvin Jones- drums; Archie Shepp- tenor saxophone, recitation; Bobby Hutcherson- vibraphone; Barre Phillips- bass; Joe Chambers- drums.
Recorded: July 1965, Newport, RI.