Live. The classic John Coltrane Quartet made one of its final appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965. The tension among band members is evident on the advanced versions of "One Down, One Up" and "My Favorite Things." Coltrane's performance is moving...yet weary. It's apparent the saxophonist wasn't getting the sound he wanted and by the end of the year he would take a different direction, hiring Pharoah Sanders and wife Alice Coltrane for the band. Tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp's earlier afternoon New Thing performance includes engaging versions of "Call Me By My Rightful Name" and "Gingerbread, Gingerbread Boy" (included as a bonus track on this package) with Bobby Hutcherson on vibes.
- Al Campbell (All Music Guide)
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On Friday, July 2, at the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival, there was a particularly revealing pair of performances. Part of the afternoon program was Archie Shepp, one of the most personal and hotly probing" of the younger jazz searchers into himself, his music, and his society. In the evening, a man long since established as a major shaper of today's jazz, John Coltrane, performed. Both events are contained in this album.
In describing the impact of Coltrane on his own development, Shepp spoke as well for many of his age. "John," Shepp began, "straddles the old and the new like a colossus. Since Bird (and I would even include Ornette Coleman), Coltrane is the most important saxophonist in jazz. One of the many things he accomplished was the breakthrough into the concept that a jazz musician need not - could not - be limited to a solo lasting a few minutes. Coltrane demonstrated that a man could play for a much longer time and that, in fact, the imperatives of his conception often made it necessary for him to improvise at great length. I don't mean he proved that a thirty- or forty-minute solo is necessarily better than a three-minute one. He did prove, however, that it was possible to create thirty or forty minutes of music, and in the process, he also showed the rest of us we had to have the stamina - in terms of imagination and physical preparedness - to sustain these long nights."
"When you listen to John," Shepp continued, "he's talking about Negro life from early New Orleans to right now. You see, he has a lot to express. Another thing he did was to underline the diversity of textures that were still possible on the horn. He's done an enormous amount to sensitize listeners to the scope of sound that is possible on the tenor and then on the soprano. There is no question that John Coltrane is a giant in this music."
The album, begins with an introduction by the urbane jazz priest. Father Norman O'Connor. And then this extraordinarily compelling quartet begins Coltrane's own "One Down, One Up". At the foundation are the crisp, incisive piano of McCoy Tyner; the resonant strength and resilience of Jimmy Garrison; and the poly rhythmic wizardry of Elvin Jones.
One of the best descriptions of the Jones sorcery was that of Ralph Gleason in the San Francisco Chronicle: "He has created a superficially fragmented collage of contrasting sounds which are linked by intuitive feeling for the tune, the development of solos, and the swell of emotion in the group performance. It is totally free, completely unpredictable, and implies the basic time so strongly it need not be stated explicitly. It provides a kaleidoscopic roller coaster of rising climaxes almost as if it were a structure of several systems of logic, functioning simultaneously, interweaving with the other instruments and giving a total effect of several drummers playing at once."
And on top, in between, and underneath this molten rhythm section is the thrust of John Coltrane, a player whose imperious imagination requires prodigious energy for it to be implemented into music. Few other players convey - visually as well as musically - the totality of commitment that characterizes a Coltrane performance. And the excavation of emotion comes from so deep within him that the sound is like the explosion of a jinn who has been kept by a magician in a bottle for centuries. Incidentally, with more and more being written about the speechlike cries and cadences in the work of Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, listen here to Coltrane's own seizing range of the cries that come to mind and viscera when the horn is an extension of the self.
"Rufus", the first track by Archie Shepp, is a further version of "Rufus (Swung His Face at Last to the Wind, Then His Neck Snapped)" in Shepp's Four for Trane [Impulse CD IMPD-218]. It is one of the first pieces Shepp wrote after being convinced some four years ago by trumpeter Bill Dixon that he ought to compose. Describing the piece as being about a lynching, Shepp points out that it is basically a blowing composition. "I tried to use its structure," he says, "as a kind of projectile into the emotional marrow of the piece itself."
"Le Matin des Noire" ("The Morning of the Blacks"), also by Shepp, is a fusion of lament and hope. In one sense, morning here can be spelled mourning - the keening being for what blacks have experienced in the past and are experiencing in the present. The hope is for that morning of real, total liberation. "It starts," Shepp adds, "with a very long vamp, a device I like to use to lead into the line itself. And it goes out in a kind of vamp. You see, Coltrane has suggested in his pieces the idea of infinity. I don't try to imitate his way of conjuring up that feeling, but I use the' vamps because in them you can go on and on, especially when, as here, I'm not really working with the chords." Worth noting is Shepp's command of the whole range of the horn, his disciplined intensity, and the depth of force he is able to project in even one burst of notes.
"Scag", Shepp observes, "is a colloquialism for heroin." The mood is bleak and mesmeric. As you can hear Shepp say, "Where tracks is, the money ain't." The tracks are both needle tracks and also those railroad tracks that have so long been the dividing line in town after town, city after city, between black and white. "The divisions," says Shepp, "of class and of economics are, after all, so much a part of addiction. Heroin is not in itself the fundamental problem; it is a horrifying symptom of what's really wrong with the society, of the forces that can kill a man, literally or figuratively, at nineteen."
Note Hutcherson in the perfomance. He plays a very simple line, like a vamp, which suggests the monotiony of the junkie's life - getting high, scrabbling for the money to get high again, and then, when the panic is on, the waiting and waiting while you see people shot down in the streets. Music is not sociology, but when a man can transmute what he has seen in the life of the streets into musical form and substance, the result is art of particularly penetrating and shaking relevance - as in this composition.
"Call Me by My Rightful Name", also by Shepp, illustrates that part of him and his music which is romantic. "At times," he says, "I like to do something pretty. In this, as in other areas, Ellington is a great musical teacher. He's not afraid of melodies that are nostalgic and are almost sentimental, and he transforms Them into beautiful works."
Shepp's section of this album underlines the breadth of his imagination. Also evident are the fierce individuality of his conception and the way he orders his technique to singularly expressive ends. Bobby Hutcherson on vibes reveals again the uniqueness of his approach. "Bobby," Shepp notes, "is unusually crisp and percussive as a vibist. He plays the instrument more as if it were unamplified, a xylophone or a marimba." Bassist Barre Phillips, Shepp observes, "is a very creative and consistent player." And drummer Joe Chambers, as he showed in Archie Shepp's Fire Music [Impulse CD IMPD-158], is a stimulatingly subtle accompanist. "Many young drummers," says Shepp, "seem to think their function is to swallow the soloist. Joe listens and is with the soloist."
What of the future for these two persistently exploring leaders? Coltrane has already made it in the sense that he has a sizable international audience. By his own stern criteria, he will never entirely "make it" in terms of what he wants to say because the essence of Coltrane is an infinity of searching. As for Shepp, lie feels that the time is soon coming when jazzmen of his years are about to make sustained contact with their audience. Later in the summer, after Newport, Shepp played with Coltrane at the Down Beat jazz festival in Chicago. "It was a beautiful evening," Shepp recalls, "and when we finished, we were asked for more. The next day, people kept stopping me on the street, asking 'How come you don't come to Chicago?' They're really beginning to hear, and in this regard too, Coltrane has been so important a factor. He taught - and is teaching - people how to listen beyond the expected, how to hear themselves and their times in jazz."
- Nat Hentoff