Last month, saxophonist/composer Archie Shepp performed at the Festival Jazz à la Villette in France with the Attica Blues Big Band, a 26-member (plus himself) ensemble that featured, among others, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist and vocalist Amina Claudine Myers, and drummer Famoudou Don Moye. This was a nearly 25-years-later sequel to the original Attica Blues Big Band, an all-star ensemble assembled in 1979 and documented on a double CD on the Marge label. (Read a review here.)
Archie Shepp had a pretty incredible decade-long run starting in about 1964; I have over a dozen of his albums—Four for Trane, Mama Too Tight, The Magic of Ju-Ju, Yasmina, A Black Woman, Poem for Malcolm, Blasé, Black Gipsy, The Way Ahead, Live at the Pan-African Festival, Live in Antibes Vols. 1 & 2, Attica Blues, Coral Rock, The Cry of My People and Kwanza—in my iPod right now. His ability to blend raucous R&B and funk with flesh-searing free jazz; to make the blues a channel for political rage in a non-hokey way; to create literal African-American music in North Africa…he was really onto something in those days. I haven’t really dug into anything he did after the mid ’70s, though. That’s why it’s good to see him mounting a show like this, which demonstrates that his skill as a synthesist remains intact, and that when he puts the horn to his lips, he’s still got the fire in his pocket, available on demand.
The whole performance is online; here are three selected tracks:
“Blues for Brother George Jackson”:
“Mama Too Tight”:
“The Cry of My People”:
If you want to watch the entire two-hour concert, you can see it here.