Archie Shepp: Fire Music (1965) Impulse!


Selection:Impossible to choose one selection so I will go with two:

Prelude to a Kiss (Ellington)

Girl from Ipanema (Antonio Carlos Jobim / Vinícius de Moraes)


Ted Curson (trumpet) Joseph Orange (trombone) Marion Brown (alto saxophone) Archie Shepp (tenor saxophone) Reggie Johnson (bass) Joe Chambers (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, February 16, 1965

On Malcolm Malcom Semper Malcom: Archie Shepp (tenor saxophone, recitation) David Izenzon (bass) J.C. Moses (drums) Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, March 9, 1965


Fire Music must be one of  Shepp’s most interesting albums, blistering and intense,  a half-way house between Free and the Avant Garde. The musical territory ranges from the haunting recitation and requiem for Malcolm X (quick history lesson here, it is not what you might assume), to the kitsch reworking of the  Girl From Ipanema, with Shepp as Webster/Hawkins reincarnated as Freddie Kreuger’s Nightmare on Elm Street, ripping into the tune at will while caressing it.

Shepp found more ways to force sound from the tenor than probably any other player, punctuating expressive breathiness with shouts, shrieks and dissonaces, sometimes choosing its own direction own irrespective of “the tune”. The septet surrounds him in rich and varied textures, full of surprises, with moments of Mingus but burning bright, angry and on fire, as befits its title, Fire Music.

Commentators often draw connections with this mid-’60s jazz and social/ political issues of the day. Personally I try to treat music as music, not necessarily “better” because of some background social injustice. Possibly controversial, but moral high ground doesn’t confer some magic fairy dust on music. Fire Music stands on its own merits.

Vinyl: US Impulse A-86

Mono, orange/black ring label with ABC Paramount attribution, Van Gelder stamp, I am guessing this would be the original release.. Glossy laminate gatefold cover bearing an Italian Import sticker.




London-based high-end Latin and Jazz online seller via Music Stack. Some of his records are approaching four figures so I was surprised to catch sight of what I was looking for and  not expensive considering it is the original orange/black ring Impulse! label;  VG+ with a touch of VG in places but its hard to find other than as later reissue. Ebay was replete with sellers claiming the green “tree-ring” impulse label 1975-9 as “Rare!” and “Original!” (no-one we know, if you were thinkin’).

Music Stack is a shop window for sellers who don’t want to incur Ebay fees, or possibly don’t want to play by Ebay rules (or have fallen out with them) Along with CD&LP and Discogs, it can be a shot in the dark. You get none of the comfort factor of guarantees, other buyers  feedback and reputation,  back-end connectivity with listings (Congratulations, you’ve bought it, now time to pay) You “buy” and in return you get an email saying the seller will contact you, and that’s it. However this seller is known, a former partner in the now defunct Intoxica record shop in Notting Hill, so I know where he lives if there is a problem – more difficult with overseas sellers. I doubt you would get far raising a tricky misrepresentation claim.

UPDATE No.1 – February 24, 2014

Alternative Covers?

There would appear to be two covers in circulation, one with a white frame the other a purple frame. Contrary to my original observation about the white being associated with the second black/red ring label there seem to be about equal numbers of both on Popsike, each claiming to be “original” and all with the first orange/black ring ABC Paramount Impulse label. So No prima facia case as to which is earlier.

UPDATE No.2 – First cover – all promo samples are purple frame

Whilst the orange ABC Paramount label is found with both purple and white covers, the promos are found only with purple frame. (I further hazard a guess that the white frame cover is found with both orange and the later black/red ring label, which would circumstantially seal its fate as a second print run).


LJC---sherlock-200x300DottorJazz, our own First Pressing Fundementalist, gets to wear the champion’s yellow jersey. All promo white label copies of Fire Music found on Popsike are purple frame, none are white, which strongly suggests that the purple frame cover is the earliest and effectively “first” original cover. It is difficult to refute the Dottorjazz hypothesis, I certainly can’t. Forensic genius.

However you could argue that the second cover sought to introduce an improved design, and I couldn’t refute that either.

Purple frame cover is the “original”. The debate is settled. For now.


30 thoughts on “Archie Shepp: Fire Music (1965) Impulse!

  1. Not sure how this hasn’t come up but the cover variations have different labels despite both being orange/black. The white text at the bottom of the purple/violet copy says “A Product of ABC-Paramount Records” on two lines (including “Made in the USA”) and the white text at the bottom of the white copy says “A Product of ABC Records Inc NY” on three lines. Any white copy of this LP won’t have “A Product of ABC-Paramount Records” which pre-dates the other label text (unless some joker makes a franken-copy). The theory by which I’ve built my Impulse collection is that we know the chronology in which their labels were released so if an older label exists for a particular record then that is the true first pressing. If your A-1 through A-34 doesn’t say “A Product of AM-PAR Records” then it’s not a true first… etc. Therefore the violet/purple is the first.


      • Thanks, I noticed a white-surround cover from various sellers which seemed mostly to accompany the second Impulse label, black/red ring issues. I figure with this catalogue number original had to be orange/black ring label but wasn’t sure about the cover purple surround. It’s an odd choice, I have to say, but then 1965 was an odd time.


        • Eternal gratitude for this incomparable blog. The contributed knowledge surpasses several college courses on the matter.
          I just bought a copy with the purple cover and the orange/black labels from a reputable vendor in California for a ridiculously low price–cover in VG condition, record in VG+ condition sounding much better. He said that this was indeed a first pressing and that the cover was changed because it included the wrong picture of the leader. I have not found any information online to corroborate this. Besides, the person in the photograph certainly looks like a young Archie Shepp. However, the attire Shepp is wearing on the inner photo does not match the outer image and, to my understanding, most photographs were taken during the same session. Does anyone have ideas about this possibility?


          • I’m sure to recognize, in the background of the front photo, Roswell Rudd (tb) and John Tchicai (as).
            the previous Shepp’s Impulse, Four for Trane, A-77, had this personnel: Shepp, Tchicai, Rudd, Workman, Shorter and Moffett.
            Archie is in the same Korean white shirt.
            so the front picture on Fire Music was from the previous session.


            • As I have been able to discern reading this blog and its comments, you are correct again, DottorJazz! Thanks for clarifying the confusion.


      • Hi everybody!
        I’m not sure the white cover is a later reissue. I always thought it simply was an alternative cover edition. I have both cover editions and there’s no hint on the labels hat one is earlier than the other. If anyone has some certain updates I will be happy to learn something new!


  2. LJC – I listened to this album last night using my online music account. My first time listening to it. And really, my first time ever knowing it existed until your blog.

    I like it, and now have my eyes on a sealed A-86 mono copy on eBay – time left is about 5 hours, current bid, $49. I plan to bid on it and hoping the bidding does not get crazy. Wish me luck.


      • There is Fire Music A-86 mono copy on eBay. The seller says its a sealed original mono pressing. The bidding is up to $69.88 with 6 bids and 4 hours left. My two bids were surpassed an hour ago. I may go at it one more time if the bidding does not get any higher.


        • “Sealed copy” – (sigh) – will carry a large premium. Personally I would pay a premium for EX, but won’t pay over the odds for sealed, too risky, but there are lots of people who will. Triumph of hope over experience. The only sealed record I ever bought turned out to have taken a blow to the vinyl that marked about 8 revs. Perhaps resealed to hide it. If you get it fine, but if you don’t, another copy will come along.


          • Oh well the eBay market has made the decision for me. Current bid is $118 with 25 minutes left. Way over the top for me. That gives me something more to place on my wish list of reasonably priced originals, or when all else fails, a Japanese mono reissue or 45rpm.

            So you are cautious of “sealed copies.” I understand. Come to think of it, I have had some disappointments as well, although I did not pay a premium for the few I have.


  3. This is a great record, LJC — not dull moment from end to end. Mine is a weird hybrid copy. ABC-Impulse on the label and French text. A lovely glossy gatefold stickered “Gravure Universelle” and printed “Impulse Mono A-86” — although label clearly states “Stereo — ce disquiet peut etre utilise avec in lecteur Mono”. But what he hell — it was only seven or eight quid and has given me more pleasure over the years than many other seven or eight pounds I have spent.


    • “Ce disque”, that should read, of. Ourse, not “disquiet” — although perhaps the predictive spell-checking on my wife’s iPad has it’s own view of Archie Shepp…


  4. One of my favorite Shepp lps. His tenor tone always struck me as most unique among the post Coltrane tenor men.
    LJC, nice to read of your more avant/free Jazz purchases. I would recommend you seek out Bill Dixon’s ‘Intents and Purposes’ lp on RCA and Shepp’s lps on the Savoy label.


      • I will look out for Bill Dixon. Apparently he appears on trumpet on Cecil Taylor’s Conquistador album BST 84260, which is hiding on my shelves, not played in a long time. Might just let it out for a spin. Tastes change over time and I now I find “high-energy atonalism” a bit more palatable than on first encounter.


              • On Bill Dixon’s Intents and Purposes: I do not have the original vinyl but I read that the mastering for the latest facsimile CD, which I do have, is superior to the original vinyl. Whether that is actually correct I don’t know?
                The CD does sound astonishingly good and the record is a prodigal masterpiece – no doubt.
                I doubt that this record would suit mono with its very wide orchestral soundscape.
                Obviously the proof is in the pudding but would I bet money on it.


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