Hat reissues the historic meeting of two truly influential and individual composers, arrangers, and instrumentalists on The Long March. The album appeared in 1979 on Swiss label Hat Hut. This date pairs Max Roach and Archie Shepp playing both solo and as a duo for one night in 1979 at the Willisau Jazz Festival. Roach's truly astonishing solo "J.C. Moses" is a tribute to Detroit jazz great J.C. Heard. The kinds of rimshots, trap stops and starts, and continuous rolling thunder take the breath away and make the listener wonder if this is really only one drummer. Next up is Shepp's solo tenor reading of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," where he coaxes all the ballad's idiosyncrasies and fluidly combines them with his new jazz flourishes, without once disrespecting the integrity of the original. On the title track (the middle part of a three-part suite composed by Roach), the drummer and saxophonist play together and seek the outer edges of jazz. Roach's disciplined, fiery drumming is like great wails of roaring thunder where color, shape, ambience, and dimension take on the quantum dictum of time. Shepp keeps up, unbelievably, by punching through the constant backdrop, repeating lines, recontextualizing them with different embouchures and emphases, then floating new ones through Roach's drums until only sound itself exists.
The second half of the album follows the same format as Roach opens with the solo "Triptych," with dedications to more drummers -- in this case Big Sid Catlett, Drums Unlimited, and Papa Jo Jones. Next up is Shepp’s own tribute to mentor John Coltrane with a beautiful version of "Giant Steps," and finally two killer duets in Roach’s 20-plus-minute "South Africa Goddam" and "It’s Time." The playing on the former is full of power, outrage, and complaint, but there is another side as well, the tempered sound of mourning, grief, and finally, the breakthrough of hope. The latter piece embodies the entire history of the music, from bop to free jazz. Despite the free nature of the playing, it swings hard in spots as Shepp quotes everyone from Lester Young and Charlie Parker to Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, and Coltrane. The sense of song that Roach contributes to this work, the set’s last number, is simply astonishing. His double- and triple-time feints and shimmers on the cymbals and his propulsive kick drum underscore Shepp’s lines; they are countered only by his rolling tom-tom and popping rimshot flourishes. Shepp’s tenor responds in kind, by not going outside in his expression, but rather going further inside his vast knowledge of jazz and from his heart to the emotional sense of song he has internalized. The Long March is one of the truly important duet records in post-bop-era jazz history.