Archie Shepp: The Way Ahead (1968) Impulse/ EMI

Selection 1: Damn If I Know (The Stroller) – (Walter Davis Jr)

,  ,  ,

The blues gets an unmistakable Shepp makeover, mixing bursts of free solo improvisation with the aggression of a screaming banshee, within a traditional harmonic twelve bar foundation. It’s The Blues alright, but not as we know it. Great! (Hold on, John Mayall has just phoned in unwell) There are around a dozen ticks on the front end but they pretty soon stop, so bear with it.

Selection 2: Sophisticated Lady (Ellington – Parrish)

.  .  .

Another nightmare in Shepp’s inimitable Ellington on Elm Street interpretations, echoes of his affectionate dismemberment of In a Sentimental Mood on Impulse A-97 On This Night (1966)


Jimmy Owens (trumpet) Grachan Moncur III (trombone) Archie Shepp (tenor saxophone) Walter Davis Jr. (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Roy Haynes or Beaver Harris (drums), recorded at RCA Studios, NYC or National Recording Studios, NYC, January 29, 1968, engineer Bob Simpson.

Unusually classy line up, with many greats of the golden years


It has taken a long time to get Shepp, and by jove I think its close. Musical mayhem with Ben Webster reincarnated as Freddy Kreuger, as two personalities wrestle for control of the saxophone. Lyricism meets avant-garde head on, an irresistible combination which is more enticing than just relentless free-blowing  or romantic boudoir sax – though both have their time and place.

This has the same attractive quality to be found in a number of Andrew Hill albums, where adventurous exploration of the keyboard takes place in seemingly more conventional harmonic structure – one foot firmly on the ground, the other foot firmly in mid-air, and the tension between the two maintains a sense of ” precarious balance” which avoids both stasis and falling over. However I am well aware friends of the Free Jazz Persuasion would consider this as being a wuss. They insist on music with no safety net. Their heart belongs to Dada. Personally I am content with another small step towards greater freedom, without the oxymoron of having to be totally free.

Cover: another great design credited to Robert and Barbara Flynn, who designed almost all the Impulse covers. It’s very Mandala-lite:  typical late Sixties, Buddhist and Hindu reference which communicates spirituality without any specific brand of religion or religious commitment required. Having read a few Zen books during the Sixties and Seventies – my contribution to helping out the California self-help industry – I have to say I admire any belief system which has as its goal enlightenment, rather than submission.

As a lesson in how to do it right, the US Impulse gatefold looks like this. Wow. Drool.


Vinyl: UK Impulse MIPL 516  EMI UK first release of US ABC Impulse AS-9170

This UK pressing by EMI is credited to be a mono pressing (also released in stereo SIPL 516), which is unusual as ABC Impulse US release AS-9170 appears to be stereo only with no mono edition in the US. So for  lovers of mono, its Brit or Bust. No RVG, but then the US edition isn’t either, so it’s a level playing field. Do we have the last laugh?


“M Cook”, stay behind after class, take a thousand lines “I shall not write on record labels”.   If you lend your records to friends and fear you won’t get them back, you are moving in the wrong circles. Better instead to get yourself some new friends.

And as a final lesson to the Brits on how to finish a cover – the US Impulse which I don’t got.

rear gatefold Shepp The Way Ahead

That is nice.

Collectors Corner

Source: North London record store (that narrows it down to only two or three). Expensive visit as I hadn’t been for a couple of weeks, and so was compelled to buy several records in one go. Five actually. Not that I felt guilty, as I haven’t succeeded in even one Ebay bid in two weeks. Out there are collectors placing XXL bids, as on most auctions I was second-placed price setter. Realistically, it saved me a small fortune.

ljc-Santa-smokeA reminder that the time to avoid Ebay is rapidly approaching. – the hiatus between Christmas and New Year. That’s the time when, family duties done, jazz collectors the world over retreat to the man-cave  to escape TV repeats and Christmas specials,  and thoughts turn to New Year  treats on Ebay. I’ll be one of them, but some will also have pockets jingling with their annual pay bonus.

You forget that in a world of three or is it now four trillion people, just a few hundred jazz vinyl aficionados – in fact it only takes one to make or break your day. So let’s hear it for the plucky remaining record shops, and the guys who work in them, without whom life would be a duller place. I’ll let MC Kool-Kat have the last word:

Kool-Kat-in-shadesFree jazz, spiritual, bebop-alulu, great! I’d like to move to North London – they seem my kind of guys, a bunch of cool dudes, like me.  Primrose Muswell Hill. East Finchley. Crouch End. Be-bop, skiddly-bop. That LJC, man, he’s so south of the river, they hardly got any record stores there. No comparison. 


Peace and enlightenment to you all.

14 thoughts on “Archie Shepp: The Way Ahead (1968) Impulse/ EMI

  1. I was curious if you ever thought of changing the structure of
    your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so
    people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful
    lot of text for only having one or two pictures.

    Maybe you could space it out better?

  2. Glad to see I’m not the only one placing second in almost all of my bids (thank you Japanese Record Collector!).

    Really enjoying the samples. I’ll have to keep an eye out on this one. Keep the great posts coming.

  3. These UK Impulse releases really are the business. Quiet pressings with great dynamics which serve the music well. “Magic of Ju Ju” is probably my favourite. “Blase” BYG is very good but any edition i’ve heard is a sonic train wreck.

  4. There will be Sheppites who I know will shoot me down in flames but I still think his greatest achievements are FOUR FOR COLTRANE and FIRE MUSIC.

    • in this small world of Free-lovers, I won’t judge your favorites. Here’re mine:
      Four for Trane (71) and Fire Music (86) are first steps, On this Night (97) and New Thing at Newport (94) are further evolution, Mama Too Tight (9134), The Magic of JuJu (9154) and The Way Ahead (9170) are maturity.
      not everything is gold: Live in San Francisco (9118) and Three for a Quarter One for a Dime are negligible. All other following Impulse are avoidable.

      • blasphemy! i think live in san fransisco is a fabulous recording! roswell rudd is in grand form on that album!

        • I enjoy your point: another Free lover, at last.
          I’m a very old Sheppite, following him since 1967. I’ve listened to almost his recordings in these decades. I keep a lot of his records and I often go back to listen again. There’re the first recs with Taylor on Candid and New York Contemporary Five or Bill Dixon (phase one, Danish Sonet, Dutch Fontana, Savoy), Impulse recs (phase two), a long Afro-European phase (Blasè and Yasmina on Byg for example, first 70’s) a late 70’s fase documented by Japanese Denon (Day Dream and Ballads for Trane above all) and the last, long, 80’s to now phase in which he played frequently soprano and sang. In this long period I would like to remember two beautiful records on Japanese (again) Venus label: True Ballads and True Blue. in the last 50 years, Shepp recorded in term of hundreds, too many for me. as I said, not all is gold, gold can be found in not more than 10 records, maybe less.
          for me, as a personal opinion, Live in San Francisco is no gold, but I respect yours, Greg. wanna know which record I would save among ’em all?
          New Thing at Newport, and NOT for the Trane track, curious ’cause Coltrane is maybe my preferred musician.

          • I like your thinking, dottor. All excellent albums. I think his mid-70s to late-70s run is pretty solid as well, documented on Black Saint, Freedom, Uniteledis, Marge/Impro, Horo, etc. Those records aren’t rated so highly by collectors but constitute a body of work that pushes in several directions, most fully realized in flat-out live blowing.

            • correct Clifford, Denon published a very interesting group of recordings 1977-1979, Day Dream and Ballads for Trane on top. I recently listened to a 1985 record on French Vent du Sud VS 105 that, apart from some singing, is very nice: You’re my thrill.

  5. A Shepp I am unfamiliar with, but your description strikes similar to my own of “Blase”. Have you heard that one? Thoughts? Similar indeed?

    • Blasé is out of the same box, recorded a year later than the above. I don’t have it but I note it even has another version of “Sophisticated Lady”. Allmusic give a short sample and it has the same mood and feel. Nice. Features affair bit of “singing” – maybe there is some marketing logic in adapting it for a different audience, as I see its a French label. Chanson Francaise with squealing sax – I could grow to like it, bien sur.

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