Archie Shepp: Attica Blues (1972) Impulse

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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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Artists

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)

Music

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 Thinks some moreLJC 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.

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Gatefold with “creative” diagonal text flow.

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Collector’s Corner

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.

LJC

24 thoughts on “Archie Shepp: Attica Blues (1972) Impulse

  1. just came across your blog , amazing collection and great community.
    thanks for this unique Archie Shepp album share.
    I’ve opened for his quartet with my jazz group at The North Sea Jazz Festival ( The Hague , Netherlands) in 1992 , hanged out with him on the back stage – what a great personality and a inspiring open minded spirit! Peace & Jazz to All!

  2. Further to Gregory the Fish’s comment below about whether this is an original and the white text with 1971 at the bottom of the label. I have just picked up a copy on ebay which doesn’t have that white text. Not received it yet but will update later on sound quality etc According to comments made by W.B. on Hoffman ABC were using lots of different pressing plants at that time which may explain the use of different labels..

  3. I love this album, it’s almost like a soundtrack to an unmade movie in parts. Ballad For A Child is exquisite. The final song, Quiet Dawn, is misjudged in my opinion, the only dud on the album, out of tune child singing is not to my taste, but you can’t say Shepp wasn’t pushing at boundaries.

    • What I find unlistenable — almost immediately boring — about this kind of thing is not the electronics but the thudding four-to-the-floor beat. I find myself switching off after a few seconds, already bored by the lack of variety, the shifting subtlety that a real drummer brings…

      • Alun
        as one of those who at one point made a career out of peddling ‘acid jazz’ or ‘jazz not jazz’ to the masses, what I don’t like about it, is that it isn’t very good.
        A good remix, like a good solo is a thing of beauty. Far too often it was a good pay check from record label to mixer to fill a spot on a remix album.
        I think this is one such case.
        Dean

        • Dean, I’m sure you’re right: done well, it can be satisfying. Just out of interest – and not because it’s acid jazz or a remix – I wonder what you make of Dave Douglas’s SPARK OF BEING.I’ve been listening to it (only on his website and elsewhere), trying to decide whether to buy the ltd edition vinyl version that is now available.

          It mixes traditional horns and so forth with cutting edge electronics. Some reviewers have said it’s what Miles might have sounded like had he recorded in the era of Pro Tools and laptops. Maybe they’re right. What I can’t quite decide – short of buying the record – is whether it is quite strong enough to hold the attention or reward repeated listens. I think that’s why the best jazz is so satisfying – it’s quite hard to memorise, it shifts and changes, it doesn’t always go where one expects… And I can’t quite decide whether this interesting – and enjoyable, don’t get me wrong – Dave Douglas experiment quite has that listen and listen again quality…

  4. I slept all night before a comment. As you all know I DO love Free Jazz. Two, among my favorite musicians are Shepp and Ayler. Both have recorded for Impulse many records, both are main new voices on tenor. Trane, the other Impulse recording artist, came from the 50’s and changed his way of playing from late 1964 on. The others were rookies in the 60’s. Shepp started with Impulse, previous recordings less interesting, Ayler kept on Impulse after ESP period. I’ve always recommended SOME Shepp’s and SOME Ayler’s, not all, after havin’ listened to them all. The following records are essential for Afro-American musical evolution/revolution.
    Shepp on Impulse: Four For Trane A 77, Fire Music A 86, On This Night A 97, Mama Too Tight A 9134, The Magic Of JuJu A 9154, The Way Ahead A 9170.
    Ayler on Impulse: In Greenwich Village A 9155, The Village Concerts IA 9336/2.
    ALL BEFORE 1968.
    There are several albums on the same label:
    Shepp ALL AFTER January 1968, For Losers, Kuanza, Things Have Got To Change, The Cry Of My People and Attica Blues.
    Ayler ALL AFTER 1968: Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe, New Grass, The Last Album; Love Cry, 1967-68, for me in this second group.
    It looks evident that 1968 changed the world a lot. What I’ve never appreciated, is the turn two of my beloved musicians had that year. And I’m not a moldy fig. Listening to those records almost 50 years later have not changed my mind yet, neither for PRE nor for AFTER 1968.

    • Albert Ayler’s ‘New Grass’, noted above, is a strange album which was received badly by many listeners. It’s another Impulse that I’m reluctant to comment on at present (although I have a near mint original vinyl copy).

      • It is worrying how many of these records you come across described as “appears to be nearly unplayed”, compared with most Bill Evan’s albums – which appear to have been played to death.
        There is a virtual selection in my collection, records I would initially class as “difficult”, though whenever I revisit them, which I do, I find them increasingly less difficult, though not always.
        Problem is, I now I have a new section. ” Not difficult enough”

  5. now, shouldn’t the original have the long line of white text at the bottom, with the year absent? i daresay this may be a second pressing.

    • By 1972, when this recording was released, it’s my understanding the ABC Records address and “Made in USA” white text footer on the label perimiter was replaced by the year of copyright assertion. This change occurs around AS 9219, three titles earlier than this Shepp release, so it’s on the cusp, but after the address to copyright change. I think this is the first edition but if anyone knows better, please come forward.

      • i’m fairly certain i’ve seen it with the longer line of text minus the year, as well as the michael white title that came before it. i could be wrong. i am not an expert on those years yet, though, so it’s not the final word.

  6. The first time I heard this album, the thought that popped in my mind was “oh Archie, how far you’ve fallen”. Still not a fan of it 🙂

    LJC have you heard Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music? I wouldn’t say it is similar to Attica Blues, but it’s also a high energy avant-garde album, but without the overt funk vibe.

    • I think it’s Shepp’s Marmite album: love it or hate it, it’s difficult to be neutral towards it. It is always good to try something different, probe the boundaries, even if you come back with “Nah, not for me”.

  7. Well, well, LJC, Shepp is getting quite lot of air-time with you at the moment. This one I have always avoided because – and as I do in all such instances – it has singing on it? Maybe I need to try again – or try for the first time.

    Re. Spam. I guess you are already running Kismet on the blog? I run it on a blog I maintain for clients and it does work – it automatically filters 99% of all known germs….

    • I meant singing on it, statement, not singing on it, question. My wife’s bloody iPad has built in up-talking on it…

      • The “singing” is my favourite part on the record, namely that weird and wonderful last track. Gives me chills every time I hear it.

  8. Great record from my favorite sax player. Archie Shepp repeated the Attica Blues Band 2 years ago in Paris with international musicians. The CD (I know but it is 2014!) is out as well as a DVD of the great swinging concert. Also on the MEZZO TV, chain the whole concert was shown.
    If interested look at: http://www.archieball.com/disc

    Great swinging concert in PAris with both musicians and people standing and dancing on Mama too Tight

  9. I’m pleasantly surprised to see a visit to this set here on the blog and even more bemused and delighted that you have enjoyed it, since it features vocals, electric instruments and much that is decidedly quirky.
    I bought my own copy last year without having pre-listened- although the first track was a familiar acid jazz anthem. Otherwise, I was really surprised by what I heard, since I was expecting fire and free jazz fury, rather than thoughtful big band sounds combined with 70’s funk and the strange ballad sung by a child. I thought about writing about it myself, but decided that there were other sets that I wanted to look at first- so well done. I will read the comments of other visitors with great interest.

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