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While making every attempt at identifying any inherent musical attributes that result in positive feelings or thoughts, this writer struggled with Archie Shepp’s futile stabs at vocalizing through an array of tried and true jazz standards. Archie Shepp’s place in Modern Jazz history as an innovative stylist and improviser is etched in stone; however, on “Something To Live For” Shepp stumbles through classics such as “My Foolish Heart” and “Georgia On My Mind”. Shepp gets by to some degree when he stays within his low register baritone, rekindling memories of Johnny Hartman or Joe Williams but that’s where it ends. Whether or not Shepp had a vocal coach seems insignificant or a moot point. Not sure why Timeless Records released this but someone should have sent Archie an anonymous note stating that this was an ill-advised endeavor, especially for public consumption. On Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome” Shepp commences with deep baritone phrasing. The problem here and throughout is when Mr. Shepp pushes his rather limited vocal chords to the upper registers which includes some scat singing et al. Shepp falls flat on his face and displays very little ability to attain pitch and melody. His swaggering tirades detract from the fine accompaniment provided by the stellar supporting cast of musicians. “Georgia On My Mind” is almost unbearable. Here, Shepp’s voice is garbled and off track. He engages this tune in reckless fashion and the results are dubious and embarrassing. This writer found it difficult to maintain interest and the listening experience was less than gratifying and that’s being kind.
Perhaps Archie Shepp realizes that this outing was a mistake. We can only hope that history won’t repeat itself and that this legendary jazz modernist will continue to enamor us with his brilliant saxophone play.
Archie Shepp: Vocals and Tenor Sax: Eddie Henderson: Trumpet, Flugelhorn: John Hicks; Piano: George Mraz; Bass: Idris Muhammad; Drums: Steve McCraven; drums (track 8).