Nearly four decades have passed since this nightclub date in Copenhagen was recorded, and I still haven’t caught up with Archie Shepp. Perhaps I never will. Shepp, who never met a squeak, squawk, grunt or growl he didn’t like, is paired with Sweden’s Lars Gullin, one of the most restrained and lyrical baritone saxophonists of his era. How they ever got together is a mystery to me. Talk about your odd couples! On the one hand we have Gullin, struggling to stay somewhere in the neighborhood of a recognizable theme; on the other, Shepp, as determined to abandon any such constraints in favor of his own free–thinking approach to improvising. While it’s obvious that Shepp has extraordinary technique, his solos are (in my opinion) full of sound and fury but signifying very little. As with most “free Jazz,” I find listening to his dissonant and, yes, repetitious ad–libs a rather painful experience (but not as painful as I once did, which could be a step forward or backward; I’ve not yet resolved that). It’s said that Shepp incorporates elements of many players into his unorthodox style, from Webster, Hawkins and Lucky Thompson on through to his contemporaries. If what we hear on this recording is the result of that fusion, give me Zoot Sims or Stan Getz any day. Even Gullin (who performs with Shepp on only the first and last of the four extended numbers) is drawn into Shepp’s vortex, playing more stridently than is his custom and even screeching a few times, almost as if he were trying to earn Shepp’s stamp of approval. We admired him more when he was easygoing and ultra–cool. Lars has the first solo on “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and is featured all the way on “I Should Care,” as is Shepp on “The House I Live In” before the two are reunited for the finale, “Sweet Georgia Brown.” The topnotch rhythm section is composed of the late Catalonian pianist Tete Montoliu and a pair of “young lions,” Swedish drummer Alex Riel and Danish bassist Niels–Henning Ørsted Pedersen, seventeen years old when the recording was made. Montoliu’s swinging, straight–on solos are a breath of fresh air. In an interview with Coda magazine shortly before this concert in November ’63, the usually articulate Shepp makes a sweeping statement about Jazz that is not only totally unsupported but reveals far more about his personal agenda than the music itself. Jazz, he says, is “the one music that has not been mastered by white people.” Sorry, Archie; I can’t buy that, nor can most of the white people who have been mastering Jazz since its earliest days and continue doing so today. Like any music, Jazz has nothing to do with color and everything to do with artistry, which isn’t limited to any race or creed. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, back to the album. As its running time is only 49:44, there seems no excuse for the fadeout on “Sweet Georgia Brown” unless the engineer simply ran out of tape. That’s only an observation, not a complaint, as there’s nothing here that would have caused me to look forward to hearing more.
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