Selection 1: Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child
Selection 2: Go Down Moses
Archie Shepp (tenor & soprano saxophone) Horace Parlan (piano) recorded at Sweet Silence Studios, Copenhagen, Denmark, April 25, 1977; engineer Freddy Hanson
Emotionally wrenching, this set of jazz/gospel interpretations of traditional Afro-American spiritual songs reduced Shepp to tears during the recording “due to the strain and spiritual weight of the moment”. In a Downbeat interview in 1982, Shepp recalled:
“I felt I represented everybody who’d ever sang those songs, and to make the meaning of those songs clear was up to me at that point. They should be truthful, they should have the same authenticity as when they were sung, because that’s the nature of this type of folk song. They were created by people who were in deep sorrow; they’re slave songs. And so it challenged my own ability as modern Negro black man to traverse that historical plain. Could I do that? And I felt I could, and the tears were proof of it – that perhaps my condition hadn’t changed so completely that I can’t still feel what they felt.”
Just listening is testament to the power of this recording but I was quite unprepared for the strength of critical acclaim. A fact check found the following selected highlights (cited in full – Wiki :)
“…..Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide gave it a five-star rating, finding it particularly heartfelt. Fernando Gonzalez of The Boston Globe called it exquisite and C. Gerald Fraser of The New York Times wrote this marriage of avant-garde and soul is regarded as a classic. Art Lange of CODA magazine praised Shepp’s exquisite control of his instrument, which he quite literally makes able to talk, and found the spirituals to have been sung rather than just performed. Lange added that the emotional aspect is more impressive than the technical skill, stating the result is a truly spiritual music — one which is tender, passionate, muscular, uplifting, sensual, fiery, heartfelt, and heaven-storming all at once storming all at once…..
Allmusic editor Scott Yanow gave the album four-and-a-half out of five stars and found the performances compelling. He commented that listeners who are only familiar with Shepp’s earlier Fire Music will see the album as a revelation. Music author Tom Moon felt that it’s tempo-less mood gives the themes an extra shot of majesty and found it supremely melodic….Richard Cook gave it four out of four stars…Jazz Times cited Goin’ Home as one of the finest albums of Shepp’s career, and Tom Hull of The Village Voice cited it as SteepleChase’s best release…. Jazz historian Eric Nisenson called it one of the most moving albums of the Seventies….”
LJC says: Parlan’s bluesy accompaniment carrys the weight of the tunes, while Shepp takes the melodic line as voice, plaintive in timbre, with tonal inflections and terminating in breathy tones interchanging between voice and instrument both one and the same. It scales the emotional heights in a commanding way, without needing to draw on any of Shepp’s high-energy vocabulary, or any saccharin sentiment, banishing forever any thoughts of Macca and The Mull of Kintyre. The sparseness of the instrumentation maintains the focus on the voice as it should, no rhythm section to hold the beat or flesh out the lower register to make it “comfortable”, it moves at its own right pace, songs without words, but gripped with raw emotion. Moving, searing. Archie Shepp. Great!
Vinyl: Steeplechase SCS 1079, stereo, 113 gm vinyl; send out for a Danish.
A fine recording and pressing by Steeplechase adds to the poignancy.
Source: West End record store
When I picked up this record I wasn’t looking for something this powerful. I was thinking it might be Shepp in avant-garde mode or even Shepp as with Mal Waldron, lyrical melancholy Billie Holiday songs, and when I got it home a more detailed look what nearly sealed its fate was a glance over the song titles – Amazing Grace – visions of Paul McCartney and Wings, Mull of Kintyre…help! Swing Low Sweet Chariot – Johnny Cash? Beyoncé in a cocktail dress? What have I bought? The record went straight to a special section at the end of the filing system I call Death Row.
Death Row is where I put records I think were a mistake artistically, or audio disasters: destined for disposal. There are about fifteen records there right now, I’m too embarrassed to name them. Those earmarked for disposal are however granted a temporary stay of execution. I admit to making mistakes so my method is fault-tolerant: tastes change, equipment changes, and once in a while they get a second hearing on appeal
I find it’s a pragmatic approach. A lot of the world is based on the principle of being right, of being certain you are right, never thinking you may be wrong. Systems intolerant of faults develop faults anyway, and fail disastrously. Things change, new information comes in, previous evidence thought right turns out to have been wrong. Death Row is a collectors fault tolerant buffer.
While auditioning a new tonearm cable (more of which in a future post) I was challenged by Man-in-a-Shed, who joined me for a listening session, to see if the new cable we (he) had just fitted could work some magic on an unloved record. Very good hifi does things like that. It’s no longer about lowering the bass floor or more treble, the lifting veils stuff, that happens anyway, it’s about delivering more emotion, music making sense, about being drawn in to listen, even to things you think you don’t like. Its part of the magic of sound quality downloaders don’t know about. I mean, why would you listen to something you don’t like? How could it ever sound different? Am I right?
Naturally I turned to Death Row, and pulled out the first record that came to hand, record which I was pretty convinced I would hate, Archie Shepp and Horace Parlan’s Going Home. Turns out to be a wonderful record. And sounds even more wonderful with the new tonearm cable.
Case dismissed, not guilty on all counts, immediate reprieve, ushers, set this record free! (Archie Shepp carried on shoulders from the court room, to cheers from the gallery)
Next case, if you please, Clerk of the Court., call the accused Sir Paul McCartney, a popular “singer”, apparently, also known under the alias Macca. Take the stand Mr McCartney, umm, Macca. You stand accused of being in possession of extremely unconvincing hair colouring – no, mine isn’t dyed, it is actually a wig. I put the question to you directly Mr McCartney, yes or no. Does the carpet match the curtains?