Archie Shepp

Conversations

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AllMusic Review by

In a dedication to the late bassist Fred Hopkins, Shepp returns to the recording studio armed with his no-compromise, no-nonsense way of playing the tenor saxophone. It's still as cutting-edge dour as ever, supported by the beautiful underpinnings of the trio, with Ari Brown mostly on piano instead of saxophone as he is more widely heard, the peerless bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut, and Afrocentric drummer/percussionist/leader Kahil El'Zabar. As dictated by the art of improvisors, much ground is covered, and a track-by-track rundown is warranted. The introductory "Conversations" is based on a floating piano, free-time excursion rife for Shepp's tenor to express itself. "Kari" is a rambling swinger with Brown back to his tenor sax and Shepp on piano, the latter embellishing the melody with some Erroll Garner-like flourishes. "Whenever I Think of You" is a drop-dead gorgeous, mid-tempo meditative piece, sans Shepp, showcasing Brown's piano stylings. The 7/4 chant "Brother Malcolm," with Brown on tenor sax plus bass and conga, has the collective group vocally echoing Harlem nocturnes about Malcolm X, and the closer "Revelations" is a definitive workout for Shepp, a robust swinger where his more melodic but still pungent sax sound revels in its own free-spirited, outspoken glory. To say Shepp is back would be shortsighted; he's always been around, especially as a teacher at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. This is a resolute affirmation of his powers, punctuating that he's still a vital force in the new music, as are his backup constituents on this very fine CD, a perfect introduction for the uninitiated and a must-buy for longtime fans.

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