Archie Shepp

Bird Fire: A Tribute to Charlie Parker

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This Shepp date, recorded in Paris in 1979 under the auspices of being a tribute to Charlie Parker with a host of stringers, is a testament to two things: how far Shepp's star had fallen despite his still-considerable abilities as a musician, and how dire times must have been for him to choose such a bad band to hook up with. With a trumpet player and rhythm section -- all of who will remain nameless -- Shepp bills this set as a "tribute to Charlie Parker." The real reason these three Parker tunes were chosen and the other standard, "Lover Man," was because this was the only material the band could agree on. Many might argue that with choices like "Au Privave," "Parker's Mood," and "Now's the Time," the material is plenty hot on the bebop chart. But this music isn't played like that; it's played at a drugged-out tempo. The common wisdom is that Shepp could no longer -- if he ever could -- play these tunes in their original time signatures. That's ridiculous. The fact of the matter is that his pianist and bass player are sluggish; Shepp had to turn the standards into blues jams so they could hang. And why would he do this? To eat, man, to eat. Things were tough scuffling in 1979 before the Wynton revival in jazz really polished off the '60s cats, and at that time Shepp was down on his luck. As a tenor player, however, his solos here are as inspired as ever, which makes this record even more of a heartbreaking shame.

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