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Archie Shepp: The Way Ahead, Kwanza, The Magic Of Ju-ju Revisited

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Archie Shepp: The Way Ahead, Kwanza, The Magic Of Ju-ju Revisited
2023 kicks off with the bangingest back-in-the-day bang from the Swiss-based ezz-thetics label, whose carefully curated and remastered 1960s sessions from Archie Shepp, Horace Silver, John Coltrane and Albert Ayler lit up the reissue calendar in 2022.

Shepp's The Way Ahead, Kwanza, The Magic Of Ju-ju Revisited comes in at a whisker over seventy-nine minutes and includes all four tracks from The Way Ahead (Impulse!, 1968), two tracks from Kwanza (Impulse!, recorded 1969, released 1974) and the side-long title track from The Magic Of Ju-Ju (Impulse!, 1967). All three are important albums, but have been overshadowed by their more widely celebrated close-contemporaries, Mama Too Tight (Impulse!, 1967) and Attica Blues (Impulse!, 1972).

The 1967-68 album trilogy catches Shepp and his rough-hewn lyricism at two important transitional points. The Magic Of Ju-Ju was among his final early-period sessions without a pianist and The Way Ahead was his first album with a pianist, the hard bopper Walter Davis, a move which brought a new fulcrum to his music. Transitionwise also, the two tracks from Kwanza are in effect a sneak preview of the ensemble sound Shepp introduced with the more free-ranging pianist Dave Burrell in the mid-1970s.

The ezz-thetics collection ends with the earliest track, Shepp's "The Magic Of Ju-Ju," a nineteen-minute tenor saxophone workout, or rather fusillade, on which Shepp is accompanied for the first seventeen-plus minutes by double bass and a five-piece drum and percussion section, with brass players Martin Banks and Mike Zwerin only appearing during the concluding minute. It is a rapid fire, roaring delight. From The Way Ahead, Walter Davis' "Damn If I Know (The Stroller}}" (check the YouTube clip below), Grachan Moncur III's "Frankenstein," Shepp's "Fiesta" and Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" make more use of the supporting horns, trombonist Moncur and trumpeter Jimmy Owens, but Shepp remains the chief solo voice. The two Kwanza tracks, Moncur's "New Africa" and Cal Massey's "Bakai" (first recorded by John Coltrane on the 1957 Prestige album Coltrane), add baritone saxophonist Charles Davis, making a four-piece horn section, with Shepp continuing to be the most prominent voice.

It is all indeed magic, and ezz-thetics' remastering wizard Michael Brändli has once more stepped up to the plate.

Postscript: Listening to the The Way Ahead and Kwanza tracks, one is struck by powerful resonances with the work of Charles Mingus earlier in the decade. Shepp is reaching out to the same musical roots as Mingus, with his saxophone replacing the double bass as the Master of Ceremonies, while holding his musicians on a looser rein than that favoured by Mingus. The Venn diagram also includes Mingus and Shepp's shared love of Ellington. Like Mingus' music, too, Shepp's will shave your ass.

Track Listing

The Way Ahead: Damn If I Know (The Stroller); Frankenstein; Fiesta; Sophisticated Lady. Kwanza: New Africa; Bakai. The Magic Of Ju-Ju: The Magic Of Ju-Ju.

Personnel

Archie Shepp
saxophone, soprano
Additional Instrumentation

Jimmy Owens: trumpet (1-6); Martin Banks: trumpet, flugelhorn (7); Michael Zwerin: trumpet, trombone (7); Grachan Moncur III: trombone (1-6); Charles Davis: baritone saxophone (5, 6); Walter Davis: piano (1-4); Dave Burrell: piano (5, 6); Ron Carter: double bass (1-4); Walter Booker: double bass (5, 6); Reggie Workman: double bass (7); Beaver Harris: drums (1, 2, 5-7); Roy Haynes: drums (3, 4); Norman Connor: drums (7); Eddie Blackwell: rhythm logs (7); Frank Charles: talking drum (7); Dennis Charles: percussion (7).

Album information

Title: The Way Ahead, Kwanza, The Magic Of Ju-ju Revisited | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Ezz-thetics


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