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Archie Shepp: The New York Contemporary Five

John Barron By

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Although saxophonist Archie Shepp is listed as the leader of this release, The New York Contemporary Five was really a collective; a short-lived, free jazz super-group from the early 1960s. The band, with a front line of Shepp, cornetist Don Cherry and alto saxophonist John Tchicai, was recorded live at the famed Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen, Denmark on November 15, 1963. Originally released as a two-volume set on the Sonet label, volume one of that set is reissued here for the first time on CD in the U.S. by Chicago's Delmark Records.

Cherry's "Cisum" opens the disc with a bold fanfare, as if to declare the arrival of a bold musical endeavor, intent on championing new sounds, heavily influenced by Ornette Coleman, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor. The subsequent solos by each of the horn men explore open-ended blowing, anchored by the hard-hitting pulse of drummer J.C. Moses and bassist Don Moore. A brief reading of the melody to Monk's "Crepuscule With Nellie" leads into two compositions by Coleman, from whose quartet Cherry had recently departed: "O.C.," has a swinging, angular line and a whirling solo from Shepp who blends guttural groans, blues moans and frenetic flurries into a cohesive intensity; "When Will the Blues Leave" is given a rather straight-ahead rendering in comparison to the other tracks on the disc. Here, Cherry plays it cool, with a 1950s Miles Davis vibe—Shepp and Tchicai even use Davis' "Walkin'" as a background riff. With the tempo slightly accelerated by tune's end, Moses delivers an inspiring drum solo.

A conversational atmosphere between Moses and Cherry sets up Shepp's "The Funeral," followed by bursts of ensemble interplay and a meaty bass solo by Moore. The final track, Tchicai's swinging "Mik," allows the Danish-born saxophonist an extended, bop-inspired solo spot. The late Bill Dixon arranged this tune, as well as much of the music on the disc. Dixon was a behind-the-scenes sixth member of the group, whose writing contributed to its overall sound.

Having stood the test of time, this historically important—but shamefully underappreciated—live recording of The New York Contemporary Five sounds fresh and far-reaching almost fifty years later.


Track Listing: Cisum; Crepuscule With Nellie; O.C.; When Will the Blues Leave; The Funeral; Mik.

Personnel: Don Cherry: cornet; John Tchicai: alto saxophone; Archie Shepp: tenor saxophone; Don Moore: bass; J.C. Moses: drums.

Title: The New York Contemporary Five | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Delmark Records

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