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Archie Shepp in Concert

Summerhall, Edinburgh
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

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