Selection 1: Attica Blues (A Shepp/ W. Harris) 320 kbps MP3
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Selection 2: Blues for Brother George Jackson (A Shepp) 320 kbps MP3
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Clifford Thornton, cornet; Roy Burrowes, Charles McGhee, Michael Ridle, trumpet; Charles Greenlee, Charles Stephens, Kiane Zawadi, trombone; Hakim Jami. euphonium; Marion Brown, Clarence White, alto saxophone; Roland Alexander, Billy Robinson, Archie Shepp, tenor saxophone; James Ware, baritone saxophone; John Blake, Leroy Jenkins, Shankar, violin; Ronald Lipscomb, Calo Scott, cello; Walter Davis Jr.. electric piano; Cornell Dupree, guitar; Jerry Jemmott, Roland Wilson, Fender bass; Beaver Harris; drums; Ollie Anderson, Nene DeFense, Juma Sutan , percussion; Carl Hall as Henry Hull , vocals; Joshie Armstead, Albertine Robinson , backing vocals.
Recorded at A&R Recording Studio, NYC, January 24, 25 & 26, 1972
Attica: a cultural context
The album title references the Attica prison riots and dedicates another track “Blues for Brother George Jackson” to George Jackson, a petty criminal turned Marxist revolutionary whose death in San Quentin prison in controversial circumstances allegedly sparked the Attica riots. From this distance in time and geography these read to me like events elevated for their cultural symbolic value, high above their moral tide mark, but such is the power of the narrative. They have provided rich material for Hollywood screenwriters and protest singers like Bob Dylan and John Lennon, and here, Archie Shepp. (Lennon might not have appreciated the irony that Mark Chapman, his assassin, went on to serve his sentence in Attica)
Shepp’s overtly “political” phase – sandwiched between Things Have Got To Change (5/1971) and The Cry Of My People (9/1972).
The Allmusic review describes Attica Blues as “one of Shepp’s most successful large-group projects, because his skillful handling of so many different styles of black music produces such tremendously groovy results”. (How Shepp responded to the summation of his most political of works as “tremendously groovy” is not noted)
A BBC reviewer digs further under the musical skin:
“Attica Blues is a furious, tender blast of faintly psychedelic soul jazz that’s a jewel in Shepps vast, uneven discography. Two electric bassists, four percussionists and obligatory wah-wah guitars provide monster riffage under huge slabs of horns, and strings…”
That reads more like someone who can write about music. I’ll give it a go.
LJC says: This album shook me out of my jazz-comfort zone, but I found myself playing it repeatedly, especially the title track Attica Blues, a relentless aggressive double-tempo express train ride, with what sounds like three Aretha Franklin’s simultaneously reaching climax. I struggle for the right word, but it’s not “groovy”.
Soul, jazz, gospel, blues, rock, ferocious funk, free, you wonder – or fear – what’s going to happen next? In the round, a raw and loose-stitched gathering of various black music styles, lush symphonic string arrangements conflate with meet-you-at-the-car-wash funk with a light dusting of brief avant-garde solos, overlaid with voices in many varieties – solemn narration, poetry and social message, syrupy ballads, shrieking frantic gospel-soul singers, and the plaintive wavering voice of a young girl. The choice of a young girl (the co-songwriter Cal Massey’s daughter) singing a grown-up ballad lyric, out of tune, – is it ironic, confounding expectations, a voice of innocence, is it inspired genius?
It’s not really “an Archie Shepp album” in the traditional sense. On the cover he is posed at the piano or writing desk, with those essential creative accessories, a pen, a cigarette and some bottles of beer. Shepp is only occasionally heard as a tenor player. Instead he sits in the Director’s Chair as composer, arranger and ringmaster of the large roster of musicians.
Everything here on this album is here at the behest of Shepp, cultural musical “found objects” which an artist has selected and invited you to look at. Shepp had not at this juncture “climbed on board” the funk trend, like a practicing musician, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard and other boppers in search of a continued livelihood. Keeping his distance, this album is more a collage of black popular culture at the turn of the decade, combining popular music styles with a righteous sense of social injustice and, I have to say, poor selection of heroes in the fog of war.
Vinyl: ABC Impulse AS 9222 stereo US first edition (1972) 121 gm vinyl.
Unexpectedly, not Van Gelder recorded or mastered, but a respectable job, with so much going on musically, the stereo production is lively and the presentation solid. ABC Impulse took a turn for the worse as the ’70’s progressed, and the black/red ring was more or less the end of the line in vinyl quality. Would that Attica Blues had been recorded and pressed a few years earlier, however just as well that it wasn’t a few years later.
Gatefold with “creative” diagonal text flow.
A recommendation from LJC readers, cheers.
Shepp is almost uniquely an artist who can do no wrong, though sometimes teeters on the edge of it. Attica Blues is magnificently conceived, artistically ambitious if uneven artifice. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t all come off – that is part of the territory of ambition. In his diverse career and songbook Shepp has covered all the bases, evolving and mutating as he goes. Jazz, blues, gospel, avant-garde, free, big band, and now The Funky Chicken. It all makes a sort of sense.
Curious what others have made of it.