Selection: St James Infirmary
Archie Shepp (tenor and soprano saxophone) Horace Parlan (piano) recorded February 6, 1980 at Sweet Silence Studios, Copenhagen, Denmark.
A companion volume to the previous year’s gospel infused Goin’ Home album , Trouble in Mind continues the same pairing of Shepp and Parlan, but mining a different vein of Afro-American musical expression: “The Blues” .
If some critics judged this the lesser of the two works it is perhaps because the blues formula is more limited, often a three chord 12-bar groove, leaving the tunes musically closer to each other than the gospel outing. That is how blues works, expression within a traditional format . The works are complementary.
Shepp once again works the interchange between a singing and an instrumental voice, almost lead-guitar driven, clipped phrases culminating in a vibrato sustain, ascending the upper register to climax, the tenor rasps with guitar-like distortion, and a “cry” only a breath-driven instrument can produce. .
The artistic intent is clearly to honour the blues tradition, and its roots in black history, without actually spilling over into a blues band performance. As a result Parlan avoids any kitsch barellhouse blues manner, keeping an even hold on the songs with a grand concert style, still bluesy but leaving the blues voice principally to Shepp, a finely judged balance. It is a fitting companion to Goin’ Home, both are must have titles.
More on the Track Selection St James Infirmary:
Wiki tells us more about the song St James Infirmary. “Like most such folksongs, there is much variation in the lyrics from one version to another. This is the first stanza as sung by Louis Armstrong:
I went down to St. James Infirmary, Saw my baby there, Stretched out on a long white table, So cold, so sweet, so fair. Let her go, let her go, God bless her,Wherever she may be, She can look this wide world over, But she’ll never find a sweet man like me.
Well you can see why he had the Blues. His baby done gone.
The song was popular during the jazz era, and by 1930 at least eighteen different versions had been released by various artists, including The Duke Ellington Orchestra . “St. James Infirmary Blues” is based on an 18th-century traditional English folk song about a soldier who uses his money on prostitutes, and then dies of a venereal disease”
Yup, I guess that’s enough to give you the blues too. I can’t help feeling that knowing the lyrics are not helping me get to grips with the music, which is best left wordless. Fill in your own story.
Shepp’s cover portrait exudes expressiveness: musically articulate, emotional expression and dignity, Shepp is a giant, and a survivor.
Vinyl: SCS 1139 – Stereo -119 gram – Dutch pressing
Danish Steeplechase pressings have always been exemplary quality. Which pressing plant is the interlocking zigzag symbol? This is my first Dutch Steeplechase pressing and I am less impressed. Should you have a choice, my advice is send out for a Danish.
Source: Ebay Buy it now option from a seller in Vienna, cheap as chips. Music this good should really be more expensive, people might value it more.
Shopping list, add more Archie Shepp.
Many years ago I wrote a modern Blues Song parody myself, which I found typed out among some personal memorabilia. It went like this (12 bar in E):
Woke up this mornin’, turn on my PC
Put in my password, but she don’t recognise me
Got the PC blues, whole systems gone down the pan
Found my spreadsheet’s been spreadin’ ,
for another man.
Not bad eh? I do de blues too, man.