Monthly Archives: August 2014

Archie Shepp & Dollar Brand: Duet

Although I’m something of a newcomer to the work of Archie Shepp, I have enjoyed listening to Abdullah Ibrahim for over 20 years, indeed I had the good fortune to attend a solo performance in a venue up the road from where I live in the late 1980’s. This set brings two distinctive musicians together and it was one of those orders placed in anticipation that it would live up to its promise.

Duet was recorded at Columbia’s studios in Tokyo in 1978, with a Japanese producer. I don’t usually comment on the recording quality but Shepp’s sound on this album compels me to do so. Overall, the reproduction is extremely clear and detailed but there is a devil in that detail, to my ears.

Archie Shepp’s playing detracts from what could have been a great set. From his opening notes on Fortunato it seems as though he is pecking at the mouthpiece, playing with short breaths and letting too many notes end with a badly controlled pitter-patter sound. It’s almost as though he is playing his tenor sax with a similar mouth action to Hannibal Lecter when he says ‘Clarice th th th th th’ early in The Silence Of The Lambs. It could be the microphone placement and too much studio accuracy, but to this (tenth rate) former saxophonist it just sounds like very sloppy playing. The track itself is a slow and subdued piece, best suited to reflective early hours listening, perhaps.

Barefoot Boy From Queens Town (To Mongezi) is a great piece of Township Jazz- light without being trite and a delightful composition. Typical of a certain vein of Abdullah Ibrahim’s work. But there is a surprise here. It was only when I looked at the sleeve credits that I discovered that it was actually written by Archie Shepp (whose playing is more appealing on his soprano sax here).

Left Alone has a wistful, yearning sort of feel to it. Blues for the hours after midnight, perhaps with a fine single-malt whisky close to hand, if that’s your poison.

Theme From ‘Proof Of The Man’ had me mining Google as I wanted to find out what nature of the underlying production was. As this wiki link shows, it is a Japanese / American detective film which seems bleak and ends up with a pile of the bodies of all main protagonists. I may seek it out sometime, or maybe not. It’s another tone poem. Abdullah Ibrahim does not let us down but, once again Shepp’s playing falls short for the reasons referred to above.

Ubu-Suku, at just over 4 minutes is the shortest track by some way and, to my ears, is a bit of an aimless meander.

You can listen to the closing track, Moniebah courtesy of YouTube. It offers a mellifluous and satisfying conclusion to a good album, which could and should have been great. Archie Shepp isn’t really Hannibal Lecter, but he has played far better elsewhere.

To play, touch or click on the arrow.

The band etc: Archie Shepp (soprano, alto & tenor saxophones); Dollar Brand (piano) Recorded: Nippon Columbia 1st Studio, Tokyo, Japan (06/05/1978). Producer: Yoshiro Ozawa. Cover Photography: To follow. Issued by Denon.


What I’m Listening to: Week commencing 18 August 2014.

Monday 18 August 2014
Back on my bus and tube commute and another listen to Grant Green’s Matador (Blue Note. Recorded May 20 1965- released 1979).
Returning home there was more time for:
Cannonball Adderley Sextet. Nippon Soul (Riverside. 1963).

Tuesday 19 August 2014
Yusef Lateef. Jazz Mood (Savoy. 1957)
. Which I have previously written about here.
Charles Mingus. The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady (Impulse. 1963). Through the headies.
John Coltrane. Live At The Village Vanguard: The Master Takes(Impulse. 1998- recorded 1961).

Wednesday 20 August 2014
Excited by next month’s contemporary jazz album- ordered 5 minutes ago. What is it? That would be telling but it is by a hero recorded live. Can’t wait to tell you about it in early September!
At home it’s another visit to the brilliance of John Coltrane. Live At The Village Vanguard: The Master Takes(Impulse. 1998- recorded 1961).

Thursday 21 August 2014
Archie Shepp & Dollar Brand: Duet. (Denon 1980).


What I’m Listening to: Week commencing 11 August 2014.

Saw some great live music- Derek Nash’s Acoustic Quartet at Bexley Jazz Club on Monday 11 August. Nash plays in a range of jazz styles and this was perhaps his most mainstream that I’ve seen so far- but he turned in a typically exhuberent performance and was ably accompanied by a stellar line-up of Alec Dankworth (bass). Dave Newton (electric piano) and Sebastiaan De Krom (drums).

On the hi-fi, after a bit of a struggle with #One by Black Top I went back to Miles Davis Live In Person At The Black Hawk (Columbia. 1961).

I took delivery of Brilliant Corners. Thelonious Monk (Riverside. 1957). I’m also struggling with this a little but I will persevere. Bus and tube journeys into work this week have been made more bearable by listening to an old staple: Grant Green’s Matador (Blue Note. Recorded May 20 1965- released 1979).

Sunday 17 August 2014
Cannonball Adderley Sextet. Nippon Soul (Riverside. 1963)


#One: Black Top

As part of my mission to write about some new ‘jazz’ here at I was delighted to obtain this new live recording from Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas who feature Steve Williamson as a guest on tenor and soprano saxophones.

#One is the first CD release from a series of live performances featuring a changing cast of collaborators.

The CD sleeve says: ‘Black Top. Utilising music and sounds influenced by the African diaspora providing a platform where experimental acoustic dexterity meets spontaneous technological soundscapes.’ Well worth a listen then!

It’s not easy listening though. Orphy’s marimbas run throughout and Pat Thomas is ever present with piano keyboards and beats. There are no immediate and obvious reference points after a couple of plays, other than a hint of Eric Dolphy’ Out To Lunch that I latched onto

I could spend the next three weeks listening to and then listening again in an effort to try to explain the three tracks here- but I won’t. I know this is a CD that I’ll return to, as it’s interesting and complex and when I do, I’ll add some more here. It’s a bit of a cop out but I don’t think Black Top deserve to be rushed at because it is to be hoped that this project will endure and go from this strength to future glory.

The set consists of three tracks:- There Goes The Neighbourhood; Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and Archaic Nubian Step Dub.

You can get a flavour from the YouTube film of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, which captures the musicians performing this piece at their live recording at London’s Cockpit Theatre.

To watch, click or touch the arrow.

Archaic Nubian Step Dub closes the CD. Williamson stretches out and is at his most inventive on the shortest track.

My personal jury is still out on Black Top. That said, I am looking forward to seeing them live and hearing what they choose to release next.

On a revisit in late-August 2014, listening through headphones as background to some work, the final track was compelling, grabbed my attention and I went back to play it again.

You can visit Black Top’s website here

The band etc:- Orphy Robinson (marimba); Pat Thomas (piano, keys, computer beats); Special Guest: Steve Williamson (tenor & soprano sax). Live recording engineer: Steve Lowe. Recorded 31 January 2012.  Jazz In The Round, The Cockpit Theatre, London.  Sleeve: Ian Swifty Swift.  Label: Babel Label. Issued 2014.


Inner Urge: Joe Henderson


Inner Urge was the fourth of five 1960’s Blue Note sessions with Joe Henderson as leader. They are all strong sets, ranging from his bossanova flavoured debut to the adventurous Mode For Joe, from this saxophonist who never seems to quite get the credit he merits.

Inner Urge showcases Henderson as the sole horn in this quartet with two members of John Coltrane’s band and Bob Cranshaw who worked with Sonny Rollins. Just over a week after this recording session, drummer Jones and pianist Tyner would be back in the same studio working on Coltrane’s ground-breaking A Love Supreme.

Henderson had become a sought after session player in the short period since he had appeared on the New York jazz scene. He had been mentored by veteran trumpeter, Kenny Dorham and played memorable solos on Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder, Horace Silver’s Song For My Father and on Grant Green’s Idle Moments.

The sleeve notes disclose that the title track was written to capture some of the frustration and anger experienced by Henderson as he struggled to come to terms with the pace of his life in New York City. Certainly, there is a sense of relentlessness about the playing and McCoy Tyner’s piano playing is a mercurial journey along his keyboard. Inner Urge is a standard repertoire choice these days (as you will learn if you search the title on YouTube) and this YouTube choice will allow you to form your own view, if you are not already familiar with it.

To play, touch or click on the arrow

Next up, Isotope, is a well-crafted musicians tribute to Thelonious Monk, with a playfully jumpy tune which offers great scope for the soloists improvisations.

El Barrio is a further high point on a fine set. In his sleeve note interview, Nat Hentoff, ever skilled at drawing out something more from his subject, records that Joe Henderson told him of his love of Spanish culture and studied the language as a child. Not surprisingly this tune has a Latin feel and Joe Henderson is trying to create a soundscape that evokes a picture of a Spanish community. It sounds great.

The set closes with two tunes from other composers. Duke Pearson’s You Know I Care is a beautiful ballad, which shows that Henderson can play with great sensitivity. Cole Porter’s Night and Day had been covered by both Sonny Rollins and Stan Getz in the months before Henderson put down this version. This tune was one of the ten top revenue generating American songs of all time and Henderson’s version is fairly ranked amongst the best jazz covers of it.

So there we have it, Inner Urge is well-worth tracking down and the critics love it, as do I. If you are an aspiring jazz musician the title track is almost certainly one you will be required to study and learn to play the changes on. This is another set from an artist who never seems to disappoint. Buy, beg or borrow it with confidence of a rewarding listening experience.

The band etc:- Joe Henderson (tenor sax); McCoy Tyner (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Elvin Jones (drums).  Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded 30 November 1964.  Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  Sleeve Notes: Nat Hentoff.  Cover photos: Francis Wolff.  Originally issued as Blue Note 84189.