Archie Shepp “Mama Too Tight” (1966)

Track Selection: “Theme for Ernie” >


Archie Shepp (ts) Tommy Turrentine (t) Grachan Moncur III (trmb) Roswell Rudd (trmb) Howard Johnson (tuba) Perry Robinson (clar) Charlie Haden (b) Beaver Harris (d) All star cast in addition to Shepp’s regular band, recorded 1966.


All Music Review : “lots of free blowing, angry bursts of energy, and shouts of pure revelry are balanced with Ellingtonian elegance and restraint that was considerable enough to let the lyric line float through and encourage more improvisation. This is Shepp at his level best”

I am not a big fan of Archie Shepp, though he has his following. The selected track Theme for Ernie is to my ear the most accessible. I can hear the Ellingtonian references and can say honestly I like it. But if I put on Side One my better half asks if she should call out the plumber as the boiler is making noises. Mama Too Tight sounds to me like a bad night at a disco, while the Portrait of Robert Thompson (as a young man) would have any doting mother hide this portrait in her attic, so I guess I still have some way to go.

Vinyl Stuff

SIPL 508 UK first pressing, Black and Silver Impulse. I think that’s a “1” in the run-out. Sound is fresh and clear and the stereo an advantage given the strong musical texture. For some reason a previous owner felt compelled to underline the performers names in red, rather than the usual  DJ signature annotation, of time and bpm. Great cover though.

Collectors Notes

Ebay price in single figures, after including the postage, and some change. Not one on the Russian Federation collectors list, I guess they don’t do “free” in Russia. I can  hear them in Moscow: “Vladimir darlink, I think the plumbing needs fixing!”.  For me, a record to bring out every now and then to check your hearing. Finding some jazz becoming increasingly too light and fluffy is a sure sign that you are moving towards something more demanding. Signposted “Free”.

15 thoughts on “Archie Shepp “Mama Too Tight” (1966)

  1. Again, I’m returning to an old post because I have just finished playing a 180gm repress of this and must admit to it being my first hearing. On first impressions I think I prefer both Four for Trane and Fire Music as more disciplined works, but I do love the contrast between the free blowing and the hommage to Duke, Webster etc.

    But just to pick up a point dottorjazz makes, I’m not sure there has been nothing new in jazz post-Free Jazz/New Thing. I think the dominant post-free jazz movement – and one that still persists today – is neo-classicism/European avant-garde. What this means, I suspect, is that in search of an audience what we might call ‘progressive jazz’ went intellectual (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense). It moved out of the bars and clubs and into the concert halls, into academia. It went where it could find sympathetic listeners. And this audience was sympathetic to jazz that crossed over into twentieth century modern and the european avant-garde. What has followed from that is the splitting of jazz into two streams. On the one hand a kind of neo-conservative commercialism (after all, no one wants to starve) and on the other avant-garde jazz that doesn’t see ‘swing’ as a primary objective.

    • good argument but, remember, ‘t was 50 years ago today.
      how is it possible that no one real innovator has come out to trace a new way in Jazz? we have had in Rock and maybe in Classical. after Trane’s death I can’t find a single way of expression totally different and new. Trane died in 1967 without leaving a path to be followed or, better, a path that could be brought further by anyone, sadly. true that some of his latest ways seemed to go nowhere but he went on searching till the end.
      in the 50 years before Free, Jazz had a lot of interesting new paths, totally changing’ the play’s rules, at least one every ten years. I don’t see any new original way, at least one that could light my fire again.

      • dottorjazz, I am going to offer two answers to your excellent question: “how is it possible that no one real innovator has come out to trace a new way in Jazz?”

        Answer 1. Because it isn’t needed, and no one cares. It isn’t 1967/8 any more and no one any longer believes that a new way in jazz has to be found or the music will flounder and die. If they think anything at all about jazz, it is only to assume it already dead and buried. No one is looking for a successor to Trane, or Shepp, or Ornette… Sad but true.

        The second answer is more complicated (and more hypothetical). I think we need to distinguish between two different methods of ‘finding new ways’, of seeking innovation. It is significant (although I haven’t yet worked out why or in what way, exactly) that in the last thirty-plus years, innovation in jazz has tended not to be innovations in the playing of a particular instrument (sax, predominantly, but notably piano too) but innovations in music processes, methods or systems. And here there have been a lot — Braxton’s explorations (in my view) being at the forefront (and you see, he isn’t regarded so much as an innovator in playing or virtuosity, but an innovator in musical systems). As regards an innovator in playing method I would point to Evan Parker (the exception,m you will quite rightly say, that proves your rule).

        OK, and a third answer: I don’t know why there have been no great innovators since the late-60s — except to say that history has moved on. The inferno of change and innovation in the modern music that was jazz from say the 20s to the late-60s in all likelihood won’t happen again because no one will consider it necessary…

        However, I still think there is a nugget of truth, however poorly thought through at the moment, in distinguishing between innovations in music process/systems, and innovations in playing or style…

        • hard to admit for me, and it wasn’t my assessment: Jazz is dead.
          New Orleans, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, New York again: trad, swing, bebop, cool, hard bop or West Coast, Free. and then? Braxton?,created no school, european post-free radicals? , Marsalis, arghhhh, Metheny? anyone suggesting ONE name of a “new” master to join Duke, Hawk, Pres, Bird, Trane, Miles, Shepp?
          can’t think of anyone. and this must be the reason why the vast majority of collectors continue to search in two decades only, 50’s and 60’s. inside there is all we need and like and, as you stated, WE have no other interest.
          WE killed Jazz.

          • “WE have no other interest. WE killed jazz.” In focusing almost exclusively on original 1950s/60s pressings of jazz, jazz has been ‘saved’ but its future as a vital, living, breathing, changing form stifled. I think you’re right — this is part of the story, certainly as far as collectors are concerned. But I still think there is a bigger picture — the decline of jazz as a central part of the wider culture/society. Art forms develop not just because people continue to use them and in the process change them; they develop because they are still considered historically important, and offer a way of saying or doing things that can’t be said or done in another medium.

            Jazz has lost its historical importance.

          • As a performance art form, I think improvisational jazz is as good as dead, but, thankfully, uniquely preserved on records of ’50s/’60s, even ’70s. Hoping for further continued innovation from new artists seems to me a lost cause. Today’s musicians are pointing in a different direction: Robert Glasper? Fortunately, I find new things in all that I have yet to hear, if from the past.

  2. glad for lady Gaga, but her isn’t music, just show.
    I prefer a black and white old picture of a man with a sax in his mouth, blowing and sweating while he expresses himself into Music.
    and remember: any record you desire, will sometime/somewhere appear and you will be able to grab it.
    no record is impossible.
    maybe our lovely wives will be in need of givin’ up another pair of shoes…..

  3. my point of view: I grew up, musically, with the Beatles but, before I turned 16, I was interested in something less simple than rock. I approached jazz and fell in love. Apart from Davis, 1969 and Brubeck Time out, no jazz record achieved top selling. This is maybe justified by small amounts of pressing for a new jazz record in 50’s and 60’s. But, opposite to rock big sellers, jazz (and classical) continue to sell the same music all over the years with reissues. try to imagine how many editions of the same (rare) Blue Note 50’s album exist.Lex, 47WNY23, 47WNYC, NY, Liberty, UA and so on.
    the same title has been republished many times: there must have been a request for it.
    so, one single record continues to sell maybe small amounts of copies (hundreds) since decades. hundreds and hundreds and hundreds are thousands.
    I don’t know how many are jazz collectors (any edition) in the world.
    I’m sure that good music will be always discovered by youngsters tired of the simple shit, always the same, comin’ out of radio and tv.
    wellcome to these newcomers, glad to share info and suggestions with ya all (young or grown-ups).
    we are maybe few but quite different from those who are fish for baits.
    my bait is good Music: I think I can recognize it.

    • Even if you add up all the sales of Blue Train over forty years in every format, I would guess Lady Gaga sells more than that in one day. Certainly there are some younger people discovering jazz in their teens, as you did, though the jazz fans I have met seem fairly unusual people – often musicians themselves, or DJs, or even people perhaps like me, who have listened to just about everything else before finally settling on jazz. I don’t know how many jazz collectors there are in the world but I know it takes only one who wants that record more than me to lose the auction. Sometimes I wish there were fewer!

  4. Why nothing NEW after Free?

    A very good question. Because we are speaking not only of musicians, but of recorded music, the question perhaps should be “what happened to the market for recorded jazz?” Critics don’t buy records. The jazz-buying market fragmented – free, bop, cool, souljazz – and then everything was drowned by the explosive growth of the mass market teenage revolution: teenagers with money to spend. Pop, rock soul – music for dancing, dating and mating, teen idols, pin-up boys and girls, teenage rebellion, my-generation identity, music mum and dad would hate, three and a half minute hits, television and radio, the whole guacamole,a commercial tsunami which swept away everything in its path.

    The market for jazz always was and, I suspect, still is, tiny. Doesn’t change my view of it being the best music ever made, even if I don’t like all of it. But it’s music for grown-ups.

  5. As there are unpleasant records in all genres, there are in Free too.
    we must remember that playing “free” can easily result in terrible cacophonies of no interest at all. every listener can judge by himself. what’s curious in Free Jazz is that American Critic didn’t recognize any value in it. They changed their mind when the movement had lost all his strenght and interest. but this happened to many a musician (Sonny Clark) that hardly could live with his work.
    it’s also true that van gogh didn’t sell a single painting while living….
    some of Free records are as important as Charlie Parker’s Night in Tunisia alto break.
    uneasy but milestones for future music.
    the real question is: why nothing NEW after Free?
    a sort of total (musical) destruction that has not been followed by a new reconstruction.
    we are living in the advent of a new direction.
    love fun and critic: the 2 first Ayler records, on Swedish Bird Notes, among the rarest records of all times and among the more expensive in my collection, are musically embarrassing.

  6. the Free Jazz appreciation is seldom or never easy, it’s not dance music.
    we have to leave back all our previous certainties, in terms of harmony and melody.
    it’s a decade of new music between emperor Hard Bop and….no New music, so we must consider it as the last original way of contemporary American expression.
    when we follow a new music path we should leave almost all our musical parameters back, so it’s easy to understand how difficult it is.
    difficult but interesting: some of the “mainstream” musicians did so: an example for all, John Coltrane. in different times JC played in different ways but his work had a logical conclusion: after bebop, hardbop and modal, which way could he run?
    he followed free paths.
    most of the historical musicians instead, started briefly from bop to enter Free very soon.
    Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor above all.
    Critics and public refused their work: many flew to old Europe to try to express themselves without starving.
    as Europe has been the mother of all kind of music (except Jazz), here these neglected musicians found a fertile ground for their need to express and we, europeans, are glad to have offered all these cats a chance to survive.
    Sweden, Denmark and France above all.
    none of the Free men became rich or star, but each could try to express himself in front of (small) audiences willing to listen and appreciate, to sell small amounts of their recorded work the now is really high in rating.
    not ALL Free is good, but a selected group of these works is really interesting.
    I love it the same way I love Bird, Pres, Lady Day, and all the Blue Note heroes you do love the same way.
    sorry to have been long.

    • Always appreciated. The border between “music” and “noise” is personal, and I for me has changed over time and with familiarity. There is a natural tendency to blame the music for not being nice, but I do believe that the “fault”, if indeed it is a fault”, is our own. However I reserve the right to poke a little fun!

  7. Every now and then I try to ‘get into’ free jazz – Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, ect, I know it’s good for me, like broccoli or raw carrots – but I always have to give up after 15 minutes. Ornette is the closest I can get. I shall continue to persevere however.

  8. welcome back on the wild side of Free: if you had chosen the Ellington track, you surely had missed the heart of this music but, the hommage to Ben Webster has been declared sincere by Shepp and is really beautiful.
    step by step you’ll climb the different paths of Free.
    Shepp has the most beautiful original tenor voice of the second half of the 60’s.
    hard music but heart music.
    don’t look after him in the 70’s: the real Shepp is 1966-1967.

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