Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Archie Shepp - 1972 - Attica Blues

Archie Shepp 
Attica Blues

01. Attica Blues 4:49
02. Invocation: Attica Blues 0:18
03. Steam, Part 1 5:08
04. Invocation To Mr. Parker 3:17
05. Steam, Part 2 5:10
06. Blues For Brother George Jackson 4:00
07. Invocation: Ballad For A Child 0:30
08. Ballad For A Child 3:37
09. Good Bye Sweet Pops 4:23
10. Quiet Dawn 6:12

Backing Vocals – Albertine Robinson (tracks: A1), Joshie Armstead (tracks: A1)
Bass – Jimmy Garrison (tracks: A3, A4, A5, B4, B5)
Bass [Fender] – Jerry Jemmott (tracks: A1), Roland Wilson (tracks: A1, A3, A5, B1, B3)
Cello – Calo Scott (tracks: A1, A3, A5, B3, B4, B5), Ronald Lipscomb (tracks: A1, A3, A5, B3, B4, B5)
Conductor – Romulus Franceschini (tracks: B4, B5)
Cornet – Clifford Thornton (tracks: A1, B1, B4, B5)
Drums – Beaver Harris (tracks: A1, A3, A5, B1, B3), Billy Higgins (tracks: B4, B5)
Euphonium – Hakim Jami (tracks: A1, B1, B4, B5)
Flugelhorn – Cal Massey (tracks: B5)
Flute – Marion Brown (tracks: A4)
Flute [Bamboo] – Marion Brown (tracks: A3, A5)
Guitar – Cornell Dupree (tracks: A1, A3, A5, B3)
Narrator – Bartholomew Gray (tracks: A4), William Kunstler (tracks: A2, B2)
Percussion – Juma Sutan (tracks: A1, B1, B5), Marion Brown (tracks: A3, A4, A5), Nene DeFense (tracks: A1, B1, B5), Ollie Anderson (tracks: A1, B1, B5)
Piano – Walter Davis Jr. (tracks: B1, B3, B4, B5)
Piano [Electric] – Dave Burrell (tracks: A3, A5), Walter Davis Jr. (tracks: A1, B1)
Saxophone [Alto] – Clarence White (tracks: A1, B1, B4, B5), Marion Brown (tracks: A1, B1)
Saxophone [Baritone] – James Ware (tracks: A1, B1, B4, B5)
Saxophone [Soprano] – Archie Shepp (tracks: A3, A5, B4)
Saxophone [Tenor] – Archie Shepp (tracks: A1, B1, B3, B5), Billy Robinson (tracks: A1, B1, B4, B5), Roland Alexander (tracks: A1, B1, B4, B5)
Trombone – Charles Greenlee (tracks: A1, B1, B4, B5), Charles Stephens (tracks: A1, B1, B4, B5), Kiane Zawadi (tracks: A1, B1, B4, B5)
Trumpet – Charles McGhee (tracks: A1, B1, B4, B5), Michael Ridley (tracks: A1, B1, B4, B5), Roy Burrowes (tracks: A1, B1, B4, B5)
Violin – John Blake (tracks: A1, A3, A5, B3, B4, B5), Leroy Jenkins (tracks: A1, A3, A5, B3, B4, B5), Shankar (tracks: A1, A3, A5, B3, B4, B5)
Vocals – Henry Hull (tracks: A1, B3), Joe Lee Wilson (tracks: A3, A5), Waheeda Massey (tracks: B5)

Recorded January 24, 25, and 26, 1972, at A&R Recording, New York. Engineering by Tony May, assisted by Eddie Sepanski.

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)

This is a beautiful album that has a variety of influences in Duke Ellington, Sly and the Family Stone, John Coltrane, and early 70's R&B, but ultimately, this has album has its own unique voice.

It opens up with the fiery funk-and-gospel number, "Attica Blues", written in response to the Attica Prison massacre, which contains a plea for equality repeated over and over again ("If I had the chance to make the decision, every man could walk this earth in equal condition...") with some great blues soloing by Shepp and others (too far in the back of the mix for my taste) over a funk rhythm section with big band horns. It is an explosive and effective opener.

Next up is "Steam", which I remember reading somewhere is a tribute to Shepp's 15-year old cousin whom was murdered. It is a very strange track. It is simultaneously beautiful and hard-edged. It sounds like Kenny G on acid with a good dose of soulfulness and talent added in. While strings often = commercialism, on this song this is not the case at all. The strings' intonation is off (probably on purpose), the vocals quickly contrast between harshness and smoothness, and Shepp's soprano goes between hard-edged, lyrical, and somewhere between the two, creating a song that quickly transitions from mournful, to ugly, to soaring. It's power lies mostly in its contrasts, which are all effective.

After the two parts of "Steam", with a little beat poetry about Charlie Parker over some cool Jimmy Garrison bass playing in between the two parts, is the great "Blues for Brother George Jackson", a tribute to the "Soledad Brother". This has some more great soloing that stretches the blues, especially by Shepp.

Next there's the most traditionally beautiful track on the album, "Ballad for a Child", which has some very nice R&B/Gospel styled vocals, some touching lyrics about the miracle of human life, and tasteful playing by the instrumentalists.

After that is what I consider to be the highlight of the album, "Good Bye Sweet Pops", a tribute to the recently deceased Louis Armstrong. On it is beautiful and anguished playing by Shepp on soprano and a gorgeous and rich arrangement by the song's composer, the underrated composer, arranger, and trumpeter Cal Massey.

The last song is another Massey contribution, "Quiet Dawn". It is another piece where questionable intonation is used to create an edge to an otherwise beautiful song in the form of the lead vocals by Massey's young daughter. It also features a little flugelhorn by the under-recorded Massey as he doubles the melody with his daughter, possibly to help lead her through the song.

Like the times it was recorded in, this album is ugly, confused, and beautiful. It is a great example of the idea that out of great tragedy is born great art.



  2. Thanks so much!