New LPRs: Shepp, Scott, and Lateef
Archie Shepp is an artist whose work, while not always successful, nevertheless remains compelling and worth a listen. The Cry of My People is not his best effort, but one can respect his maverick approach to jazz scholarship that resists classification and challenges the notion of what can be defined as jazz. This album comes from a period in the early seventies where Shepp was absorbing all manner of black music from gospel to blues to Ellington into his compositions. The result is an album that is consistently interesting, although a bit schizophrenic.
Employing a very large ensemble that includes a choir and string section along with an expanded group, Shepp stubbornly refuses to mix his influences, yet obviously views them all as part of a vast continuum of musical expression. Listeners may be bewildered by the opening “Rest Enough”, a straightforward gospel tune, and equally puzzled by the segue into “A Prayer”, a brooding instrumental composed by Cal Massey, who arranged the album and died shortly after completing his work. After another gospel tune comes, “The Lady”, a bleak tune with a suitably resigned vocal by Joe Lee Wilson. The first half of the record veers from the exuberance of the gospel music to the haunting beauty of a more mainstream jazz sound, yet Shepp remains the guiding force with his stinging, restless attack on both tenor and soprano sax, a dizzying squall of powerful notes.
Further resisting categorization, the second side embraces the dissonant chanting and ominous drone of African music on the title track and the “African Drum Suite”. Although challenging, this side teeters between being repetitive and jarring, yet is redeemed at the end by a lovely treatment of Ellington’s “Come Sunday”, featuring a great vocal by Wilson and fiery, passionate soloing by Shepp, showing why he was so highly regarded by artists such as Coltrane.
Those who peg Shepp as a member of the avant-garde may be surprised by how accessible Cry of My People is, regardless of whether or not they can embrace the adventurous nature or social consciousness of his work. Clearly his approach isn’t for everyone. Shepp fans, of course, will be delighted to see this one back in print.
Up until now the only Tony Scott currently available was two albums intended for background music for meditation, neither of which point to the jazz leanings of a artist who cut his teeth with Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Carter, to name a few. This reissue of a Verve album from 1967 amply documents Scott’s interest in Middle Eastern music, featuring a handful of tracks with exotic instrumentation such as the oud and sitar and Scott approaching the timbre of the soprano saxophone in his soloing.
While there’s a definite whiff of patchouli permeating these tracks, they are made all the more enjoyable by intermixing interpretations of standards with a more conventional instrumentation, yet there’s still a bit of adventurousness even then. Although “My Funny Valentine” and “Satin Doll” are given a fairly conventional treatment, a duet with Richard David on “Sophisticated Lady” is all angular riffs and slippery bass while “Brother Can You Spare A Dime?” is an intimate reading with sparse backing. Scott even shows off his bluesy chops on “A Homage To Charlie Parker”. While previous reissues found Scott exploring his inner chakra, this session presents a more multi-faceted player, a restless experimenter along the lines of Jimmy Giuffre, who used his chosen instrument in ways that others never did.
While Scott isn’t entirely successful in mixing his various interests into a cohesive whole, he does assert that there’s more of his work that remains unissued that deserves a listen. Here’s hoping that this reissue paves the way for more from this neglected artist.
The Golden Flute
It’s a shame that Yusef Lateef is relegated to the second tier of musicians, an artist who is known more for his work as a sideman and whose abilities as a multi-instrumentalist places him a category with Roland Kirk, yet with none of the acclaim. It’s true that on his Atlantic releases Lateef was saddled with inferior material, but his earlier recordings are adventurous, melodic, and quite satisfying. The Golden Flute is a marvelous recording that showcases Lateef’s ability to sustain a warm groove through a well-designed program of originals and standards.
“Road Runner” is a slow funky tune with gutsy improvising that segues into a slow beautiful treatment of “Straighten Up and Fly Right”, a sultry ballad infused with melancholy beauty. Yet what would be a relatively straightforward session is augmented by Lateef’s interest in using other instruments to create new textures. Despite the title, there are only two tracks featuring Lateef on flute, but both show his interest in foreign scales and how they can enhance the palette available for improvisation in a consistent way. On “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You” the thin, reedy sound of Lateef’s oboe creates a eerie quality on a straightforward standard. However, the cherry on top is “Head Hunters” where Lateef sits out, and the rhythm section works through a tune you’ll have in your head long after the CD is over.
In the end on The Golden Flute Lateef proves himself to be an artist of merit, capable of creating a haunting session worthy of comparison to Wayne Shorter’s Blue Note recordings. An excellent opportunity to discover an artist whose work as a leader is well worth a listen.
Archie Shepp-The Cry Of My People
Tracks: 1. Rest Enough 2. A Prayer 3. All God’s Children Got a Home in the Universe 4. The Lady 5. The Cry of My People 6. African Drum Suite, Part 1 7. African Drum Suite Part 2 8. Come Sunday.
Personnel: Archie Shepp – tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; with arrangements by Cal Massey and featuring various personnel.
Tony Scott-Tony Scott
Tracks: 1. Ode To An Oud 2. My Funny Valentine 3. Satin Doll 4. Homage to Lord Krishna 5. Blues For Charlie Parker 6. Sophisticated Lady 7. Swara Sulina 8. Nina’s Dance 9. Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?
Personnel: Tony Scott – clarinet, baritone saxophone, vocal; John Berberian – oud; Atilla Zoller – guitar; Milt Hinton – bass; Souren Baronian – dunbek; Steve Pumilia – percussion; Jimmy Lovelace – drums; Collin Walcott – sitar; Beril Rubenstein – piano, organ ; Richard Davis – bass.
Yusef Lateef – The Golden Flute
Tracks: 1. Road Runner 2. Straighten Up and Fly Right 3. Oasis 4. I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You 5. Exactly Like You 6. The Golden Flute 7. Rosetta 8. Head Hunters 9. The Smart Set.
Personnel: Yusef Lateef – flute, tenor saxophone, oboe; Hugh Lawson – piano; Herman Wright – bass; Roy Brooks, Jr. – drums.
Verve on the web: www.verveinteractive.com