Archie Shepp

St. Louis Blues

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By the late '90s, Archie Shepp was no longer the revolutionary he once was, but he had established himself as a fine performer of blues, standards, and original pieces. For this release, he takes his woozy, sometimes breathy tenor in front of an outstanding piano-less rhythm section of bassist Richard Davis and drummer Sunny Murray, with "guest" percussionist Leopoldo Fleming. All the characteristic Shepp elements are here: the vibrato, the slightly over-emotional renderings of standards ("St. Louis Blues" and "God Bless the Child"), his deep, poignant vocals ("St. Louis Blues"), and the somewhat overextended improvisations. Still, Shepp is a master, and one of the great tenor saxophonists of the 20th century. While there is little here to distinguish this recording from others on which the saxophonist appears (except for some great bass work by Davis, particularly on "Total Package," and some equally fine contributions throughout from Murray), the overall feel is one of someone who has absorbed many years of tradition. Shepp is not quite up to his playing from years ago, and sounds a little tired. His version of "Steam," for example, while perfectly adequate, has better antecedents. While there are superior examples of his playing elsewhere, this recording is nonetheless highly enjoyable. Too, the saxophonist's deep, baritone voice is heard to good effect on "St. Louis Blues," and never fails to impress.

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