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theguardian - 23 days ago

Archie Shepp review – soul, skronk and hot gospel organ

Barbican, London
The veteran sax player celebrates the art song with yelps, screeches and a fine quintet showcasing vocalist Amina Claudine Myers at the Hammond
Archie Shepp is now 81, the kind of age at which jazz musicians receive standing ovations simply for being alive and staggering on to the stage. But he still wants to put on a show, and tonight his aim is to celebrate what he calls the “art song”. It’s a rather nebulous definition that encompasses spiritual jazz and civil rights anthems – everything from John Coltrane’s Wise One to numbers from Shepp’s incendiary 1972 albums Attica Blues and The Cry of My People – making this a greatest hits set.

Some clarity and precision is now missing, but Shepp’s solos are as garrulous as ever. There’s the sweet, leisurely, breathy tone at the lower end of the tenor sax that recalls Ben Webster, along with frequent lurches into clownish, vibrato-heavy yelps and screeches at the upper register (what Philip Larkin dismissed as “these death-to-all-white-men wails”).

Much of the heavy lifting is done by a fine quintet – most based in Paris, where Shepp has lived for decades. There are also some muscular harmonies from the eight-strong choir, which features Carleen Anderson (hitting outrageous high notes) and Cleveland Watkiss (who also fronted Simon Purcell’s excellent Red Circle in the support slot). Continue reading...

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