Review: Archie Shepp and the Attica Blues Orchestra at the Barbican (LJF)

Archie Shepp.Photo credit Paul Wood
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Archie Shepp and the Attica Blues Orchestra
(Barbican, Sunday 24th November 2013 (LJF). Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The contrast couldn't be greater. A hard-hitting political message versus a concert marked by sheer exuberance.

On the one hand there was Archie Shepp's spoken introduction to the concert, delivered as a disembodied voice - and similar sentiments which made it onto the Today Programme on Radio 4 (no, you're not hallucinating, jazz on the Today programme). Both of these brought a message of intense seriousness about injustices and brutality in American prisons in the early 1970s. Some audience members were moved toyell approval. At the concert Shepp went further, by stating  that in the forty years since the deaths at Attica prison, the injustice continues:  "nothing has changed."

On the other hand the concert, a varied programme with a French and American big band plus string quartet was mostly about good times, romance and carefree enjoyment, a suitable closing concert for the EFG London Jazz Festival played in front of a packed Barbican, even if the sound where I sat was very mushy and indistinct.

These days Shepp makes light of the potential contradiction. As he said in a rather playful interview in French earlier this year "if you listen to black music, it always has a sense of freedom."

The sense of exuberance in Shepp's big band starts in the engine room of the rhythm section with Reggie Washington, whose electric bass was a strong presence throughout, but particularly on the finger-popping start to Attica Blues itself, and drummer Famoudou Don Moye who was also very impressive. The concert had the appeal of a rare London appearance for that fine French trumpeter Stephane Belmondo.

The concert was also the official CD release for the album I Hear the Sound, which recorded the same programme live in France earlier this yar with slightly different personnel including vocalist of the moment Cecile McLorin Salvant  (memorably reviewed by Jade Lauren here).

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