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03/19/14

Archie Shepp Attica Blues Orchestra
I Hear the Sound
Archieball

Upon its original release in 1972, Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues made bold statements politically and musically. It was inspired by the riot at Attica Prison the prior year, where 39 prisoners and hostages were killed. Shepp, who had recorded with groups ranging from trios to octets, put together a large ensemble featuring additional horns, strings and vocalists, including the then-9-year-old daughter of arranger Cal Massey. Ambitious as it was, it wasn’t as successful as Shepp’s albums like Four for Trane and Fire Music. This album comes from two performances Shepp staged last year in France, reviving most of the original album in a slightly different running order and adding four tunes, including one from another of his Impulse! albums.

Shepp still plays with passion and fire; his tenor maintains the aggressive rasp and wail that sealed his reputation decades ago. His soprano work is equally penetrating, and most impressive, he sings with a dynamic enthusiasm, blending a smooth baritone with a blues shout. Amina Claudine Myers (who also plays piano), Cécile McLorin Salvant and Marion Rampal handle most of the vocal duties, bringing to them the requisite intensity.

But while the original album is raw and loose bordering on reckless, the ensemble here is often too smooth—surprising considering it features the likes of Famoudou Don Moye (drums), Reggie Washington (bass) and, on “The Cry of My People,” trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. Case in point: “Mama Too Tight,” which closes the album, comes off more like a slick contemporary blues tune than a gutbucket Archie Shepp piece. And as a soloist Shepp seems to float above his band instead of interact with it.

Originally published in March 2014
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