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Archie Shepp with Siegfried Kessler – First Take (2003)

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A Darker Shade Of Blue

Recorded May 30 and 31, 2003 in Montpellier France.
ArchieBall arch0104

By GERMEIN LINARES
Published: June 29, 2005

Paired with German pianist Siegfried Kessler, Archie Shepp finds himself in an evocative mood on First Take. Recorded live in France, they perform an intimate and at times haunting set of six tunes. The disc begins with the 22-minute sojourn of “Les Matin de Noirs” (“The Morning of the Blacks”). A surprisingly smooth ride, considering its length, the opening number goes a long way to ease and convince the listener of the album’s gentle vibe. Shepp never pushes and Kessler never insists, resulting in an intricate, musical dance of subtleties and niceties.

Versions of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and Shepp’s most recognizable composition, “Steam,” are done with melodic care and structural freedom. The progressions of these songs rely greatly on the mood and feel of the duo and, many times, they wonderfully depart from commonly known versions. The “Misterioso/California Blues” medley, in particular, sways nicely to the suggestive winds of sorrow and hope. The closing number, Shepp’s “Ujaama,” deviates from the album’s other songs by actually preserving its inherent, tight, straight-ahead groove. Even here, though, Shepp and Kessler’s symbiotic relationship is what best defines the music.

An impressive, worthwhile album, First Take is being released on Archie Shepp’s new label, his own Archie Ball Records.

_2.

The former enfant terrible of 1960s free-jazz, Archie Shepp has an embouchure to horrify teachers, and his sound veers between the sublime and the hit-and-miss, but his work has a unique signature. This set is a live duo recording with pianist Siegfried Kessler in France in 2003. Kessler has something of the relentlessly pounding chordal style of the late Mal Waldron, and Shepp plays tenor and soprano saxes, and sings in his strange, Billy-Eckstine- sleepwalking manner. As he’s aged, Shepp has built a remarkable balance of Coltranesque hoarseness and the frayed romanticism of an earlier jazz era. That’s evident here on a dark, pulsating account of Lush Life, and a bleakly hooting Don’t Get Around Much Any More against Kessler’s slowly boogieing backing. Shepp’s famous Steam opens over under-the-lid strumming, and Monk’s Misterioso opens with its deceptive tick-tock melody, but turns into an imperiously barging blues. Kessler is a good partner for Shepp, and it’s a real conversation.

By John Fordham
The Guardian, Friday 15 December 2006

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