Given the onslaught of jazz recordings that integrate elements of hip-hop and spoken word, it was only a matter of time before Archie Shepp’s name would end up on one. For all his renown as a first lieutenant of the avant garde in the ’60s, the great tenor saxophonist has remained a steady advocate for African-American vernacular music too. His duo recordings with Horace Parlan showed his facility with the blues, for instance. The political rage he showed on classics like Fire Music and Attica Blues has rarely subsided either, and it is both in fashion and entirely reasonable today.
Ocean Bridges began as a family affair. Raw Poetic, a.k.a. Jason Moore, is Shepp’s nephew, and 20 years ago the saxophonist jammed to some tracks he had made. They stayed in touch over the years as Moore’s style evolved and became more expansive. In 2019, Moore put together a band and Shepp crossed the ocean from France (though the title is more about the gap between the genres) to join the session.
The 66-minute recording is limber and full of chill grooves punctuated by interludes enhanced with references to Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” The main tracks feature eight musicians, most prominently Damu the Fudgemunk, a.k.a. Earl Davis, who contributes drums, vibraphone, and turntabling. The highlights include “Sugar Coat It,” which features exceptionally fluid rapping from Poetic and a gruff Shepp blowing over and under the rhymes; and “Aperture,” where the stuttering, cascading drumbeats intertwine with furious blowing. Although very of its moment, the recording is in the spirit of the early ’70s, when genres didn’t need bridges to overlap and political consciousness was a given.