Archie Shepp & Dollar Brand: Duet

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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.

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