The octet Archie Shepp surrounded himself with in 1966 was filled with new and old faces. The twin trombones of Roswell Rudd and Grachan Moncur III embodied this, but so did bassist Charlie Haden and trumpeter Tommy Turrentine, while familiar figures like drummer Beaver Harris and tubaist Howard Johnson had been part of Shepp's regular band. There are four tracks on Mama Too Tight, all of them in some way acting as extensions of the opening three-part suite "A Portrait of Robert Thomson (As a Young Man)." Shepp had hit his stride here compositionally. The track is, at first, a seeming free jazz blowout, but then traces the history of jazz, gospel, and blues breeze through its three sections. Certainly there is plenty of atonality, but there is plenty of harmonic and rhythmic invention, too. The piece, almost 19 minutes in length, has an intricate architecture that uses foreshadowing techniques and complex resolution methods. The title track is a post-bop blues swinger with a killer frontline riff turning in and out as the trombones go head to head. And finally, "Basheer," with an Eastern modality that transposes itself toward blues and folk music, becomes a statement on the transitional ties the '60s were ushering in musically. Here again, lots of free blowing, angry bursts of energy, and shouts of pure revelry are balanced with Ellingtonian elegance and restraint that was considerable enough to let the lyric line float through and encourage more improvisation. This is Shepp at his level best.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek