The Way Ahead was a turning point for Archie Shepp. For starters, he had looked all over the jazz/improv arena for the proper combination of players -- without a piano. One can speculate that this was because he cut his first teeth with pianist Cecil Taylor, and that could ruin anybody for life. Recorded in 1969, The Way Ahead featured Ron Carter on bass, Grachan Moncur III's trombone, Jimmy Owens' trumpet, and drums by either Beaver Harris or Roy Haynes, with Walter Davis, Jr. on piano. The set is a glorious stretch of the old and new, with deep blues, gospel, and plenty of guttersnipe swing in the mix. From the post-bop blues opener "Damn If I Know (The Stroller)," the set takes its Ellington-Webster cue and goes looking for the other side of Mingus. Shepp's solo is brittle, choppy, honky, and glorious against a set of changes gracefully employed by Moncur and Owens. Harris' stuttering, skittering rhythm may keep it anchored in the blues, but holds the line for anything else to happen. Likewise, the modern edge of things evidenced by Moncur's "Frankenstein" (first recorded with Jackie McLean's group in 1963) turns up the heat a bit more. Shepp's take is wholly different, accenting pedal points and microharmonics in the breaks. On "Sophisticated Lady" and "Fiesta," Haynes fills the drum chair and cuts his manic swinging time through the arrangements, lending them more of an elegant flair than perhaps they deserve here, though they also dig deeper emotionally than one would expect.
The Way Ahead Review
by Thom Jurek