Archie Shepp: St. Louis Blues

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Saxophonist Archie Shepp defined his '60s sound with avant energy and melodic freedom, but he's mellowed quite a bit in the ensuing years. Call it maturity or perspective, but Shepp appears to be more interested these days in a return to fundamentals. On St. Louis Blues, he approaches the blues form with a trio of players who've gone as far "out" as anyone in jazz. Ironically, Richard Davis settles down deep into an old-time blues strut here; and Sunny Murray elaborates an ambling pulse and groove. As the disc moves on, we get to hear more collective improvisation. By the last track, there's no confusion at all that these guys can play as free as the best of them. It's an interesting mix. St. Louis Blues may not be what you'd expect from a trio of free jazz veterans, but it works amazingly well.

On the opening duo with Davis, Shepp articulates the tone and thrust of the St. Louis Blues. His deliberate, throaty tenor solo leads into crusty, heart-felt vocals. One has the sense here that the craggy edges in Shepp's saxophone playing relate directly and naturally to the simple roughness of his blues shout. Davis's bass playing on the title track offers no hint of pretension: he stays on the beat, rarely straying far from the root, alternately walking and pulsing, keeping to the basics. As the record progresses, drummer Sunny Murray and percussionist Leopoldo Fleming step in. One of the biggest surprises is the way Murray plays time on this record. In addition to his signature color drumming focused on textures, accents, and shifting combinations, he prresents ample evidence that he can also respect bar-line regularity. (The occasional solo moment, as on "Et Moi," offers a peek at his vast potential when left to fly free. And as the record progresses, he heads more and more in this direction.)

The prominent highlight of St. Louis Blues is Shepp's version of Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child." Shepp's fuzzy, vibrato-rich tenor playing understates the theme; when he gets to the vocals, he makes them all his own with an ironic edge reflecting life's experience. These ten minutes flow naturally and effortlessly. Later tunes touch on Shepp's freer side, as he pauses more often to go "out": taking liberties to explore tonal color and harmonic flux. The closer, "Omega," exudes human energy and makes full use of Murray's abstract drumming. St. Louis Blues is a mature, balanced statement that the roots of free playing can be traced to the timeless organicity of the blues. This disc is a wonderful document and a major high point in Shepp's recent work.

Track Listing: St. Louis Blues; Et Moi; Blue Bossa; God Bless The Child; Total Package; Steam; Limbuke; Omega.

Personnel: Archie Shepp

Title: St. Louis Blues | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Jazz Magnet Records


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read The Study of Touch CD/LP/Track Review The Study of Touch
by Karl Ackermann
Published: October 20, 2017
Read Another North CD/LP/Track Review Another North
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Gledalec CD/LP/Track Review Gledalec
by John Sharpe
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Flux Reflux CD/LP/Track Review Flux Reflux
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Christmas With Champian CD/LP/Track Review Christmas With Champian
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Harmony of Difference CD/LP/Track Review Harmony of Difference
by Phil Barnes
Published: October 18, 2017
Read "Songs Of Bacharach And Manzanero" CD/LP/Track Review Songs Of Bacharach And Manzanero
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 12, 2016
Read "Fierce Silence" CD/LP/Track Review Fierce Silence
by John Sharpe
Published: December 9, 2016
Read "Bright Moments" CD/LP/Track Review Bright Moments
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: April 19, 2017
Read "Green With Envy" CD/LP/Track Review Green With Envy
by James Nadal
Published: March 28, 2017
Read "Monte Alban" CD/LP/Track Review Monte Alban
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: November 8, 2016
Read "Signaling" CD/LP/Track Review Signaling
by Troy Dostert
Published: May 11, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.