Unlike Sonny Rollins, who only recorded three albums for Impulse, the meat of Archie Shepp’s significant recorded legacy came under this label. To my ears, he had the greatest impact on the development of David Murray, who carries his banner (particularly with his Octet sessions). Just compare the first two selections here, Coltrane’s “Naima” and Shepp’s “Los Olvidados” and one can readily see the influence on any number of Murray’s tracks. In addition to his superb compositional abilities, Mr. Shepp also provided listeners with the gift of allowing us to hear and appreciate under-recorded and under-recognized masters such as Ted Curson, Marion Brown, Roswell Rudd and others who might have achieved their deserved greater acclaim with more sessions.
But Mr. Shepp also demonstrated supreme command of his instrument. He could also dangerously explore the saxophone’s boundaries in small group settings. In this vital period from 1964-68, he revealed his fury, disappointment and disillusionment with the state of the black person in America. His writing and playing goal was to present these feelings through sounds – often to entitle pieces as a political or social statement and then proceed to let the music convey the feeling. Scattered throughout are things such as spoken introductions addressing this or profoundly anguished solos encapsulating the anger and bitterness felt by the more and more militant segments of black society during the civil rights movement.
Not all of Mr. Shepp’s creations were in this mold – until the end of the Impulse years he still retained the ability to swing in a big band/R&B influenced mold. Check out “Mama Too Tight”as a resounding example. However, he never lost his groove in small settings where his sax shown like no other. Shepp always knew how to fill space in spare arrangements as aptly displayed on both “Damn If I Know (The Stroller)” and his take on Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”.
Archie Shepp’s greatest contribution to jazz will probably remain his political and social material, along with his penchant for never standing still during his Impulse years. The disc-closing “Attica Blues” fully reflects the feeling of our country in 1972. That Shepp could so fully capture the “state of Black America”and meld modern music with jazz and modern society in one track is a testament to his greatness. The man was a thinker, an intellectual, an observer, a reflector, a processor and a top flight jazz musician in one body. You can’t say much more that about any artist’s stature. This fine sounding release targets the tenor man/composer during his most productive years and hits a game-seven-winning grand slam home run. An excellent product all around.
– Birney K. Brown