Wednesday August 1st 2012 As statements of intent go, Summerhall's opening shebang featuring this rare appearance by the 80-something saxophonist and contemporary of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman was pretty much the way to go. It was Shepp, after all, whose 1965 Fire Music album captured its era's artistic, spiritual and political ferment, even as it sired a new shorthand for a fresh, angry breed of jazz iconoclasm. Summerhall may be en route to recapturing a similarly-minded sensibility, but Shepp himself has mellowed, as this low-key but life-affirming set to accompany visual artist Jean Pierre Muller's 7x7 installation, which Shepp contributes to, made charmingly clear. Arriving on stage with pianist Tom McLung, with whom he's made two albums with, including one featuring Public Enemy's Chuck D, Shepp's hat, suit and purple shirt and tie combination suggested a natty mix of old school elder statesmanship with a dapperly understated hint of flash. Perching himself on a stool, Shepp opened with the pleasant enough Hope Time, written for pianist Elmo Hope before getting to his feet for a charming of possibly ironic take on Duke Ellington's Don't Get Around Much Anymore, crooning the words like a matinee idol. Things took a darker turn as Shepp swapped tenor for soprano sax on Revolution, a brooding, incantatory piece pulsed along by McLung's low-end piano, and interspersed with a poem written for Shepp's grand-mother. There's an understandable intensity to the piece, just as there is later when he dedicates a number to his fifteen year old cousin, who died in a gang-fight. The set moves through the light and shade of Shepp's oeuvre throughout in this way, as he largely coasts effortlessly through a jaunty blues here, some gospel-inclined scat vocal there. Just before the second set, a mobile phone trills on the front row. “I'll wait,” smiles Shepp, beatifically. Robert Wyatt, another contributor to 7x7, is in the audience, and Shepp acknowledges this with a tender version of Memories, a Hugh Hopper song recorded by Wyatt for the B-side of I'm A Believer, and which Shepp accompanied a young Whitney Houston on for a version with Material, Bill Laswell's early 1980s increasingly jazz-funkish crew. On one level, such eclecticism may not be as radical as Fire Music or Revolution. As the lights dimmed on the venue's old dissecting room turned roughshod concert hall, however, it was a joyful opportunity to watch a genuine master run the full gamut of his experience.
Arts Journal Online, August 2nd 2012 ends