Siegfried Kessler / Archie Shepp

First Take

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This is the first release from a new label dedicated to the music of Archie Shepp. At this point in his career, the saxophonist's output has shown a serious lack of consistency, but this meeting between two longtime accomplices proves that he can still deliver. Originally, this was German pianist Siegfried Kessler's live date, and Kessler incidentally decided to invite Shepp. As his excellent recordings with Horace Parlan also bear witness, the saxophonist seems to entertain a special relationship with pianists. He met Kessler in the late '60s and this date gives them the opportunity to revisit some themes that they have often played together, such as the opener, an epic rendition of "Les Matins Noirs," which features Shepp on soprano and is alone worth the price of admission. His raw and emotional blowing is instantly gripping. Elsewhere, he remains in full command of his instrument, constantly switching from tenor to soprano, and delivers some beautifully heartfelt and expressive lines -- he has seldom sounded so moving and dramatic. Kessler can be economical, which always leaves many options to the saxophonist, but what strikes most is his percussive style sustained with a very strong left hand. On most tracks, Shepp sings and his smoky voice has enough endearing power to overcome its limitations. While First Take is far from the innovations and urgency of Shepp's early recordings, it is a fine addition to the saxophonist's collection.

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