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Archie Shepp - The New York Contemporary Five

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Artist: Archie Shepp

Album: The New York Contemporary Five

Label: Delmark

Review date: Aug. 13, 2010

The New York Contemporary Five was a short-lived avant jazz collective whose landmark 1963 session at the Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen was originally released in two volumes on the Sonet label. Tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp, whose late-’60s and early-’70s delvings into African spirituality have undergone a revival in recent years, cut his experimental teeth with the group … but don’t expect to hear anything like The Magic of Ju-Ju here. The material is far less realized, yet strikingly immediate — a 40-minute collision of ideas from five men who would all go on to play prominent roles in the emerging free-jazz scene.

Trumpeter Don Cherry opens the set with "Cisum,” an 11-minute number sporting wild, almost combative solos from both Shepp and Cherry, as well as a runaway drum solo by the unsung J.C. Moses. Cherry, whose tenure with Ornette Coleman’s band made him the best known player at the time of the album’s release, sounds exuberant to break free from Coleman’s formalism…which makes it all the stranger that the album’s centerpiece is two swinging yet restrained pieces from Coleman, "O.C." and "When Will the Blues Leave.”

Only toward the end of the set can an astute listener begin to hear the seeds of free jazz’s evolution: Shepp’s own "The Funeral,” a tone poem over an ominous, primal drum roll, anticipates the artist’s future fascination with Afro-centricity, as well as giving bassist Don Moore an extended solo. Danish alto sax blower John Tchicai shines on the closer "Mik,” at once a more structured, bop-inspired number and a harbinger of the moody, dissonant sound Tchicai would help to usher into vogue a few years later on Coltrane’s albums.

The Delmark reissue restores the original track order of Volume One of The New York Contemporary Five as well as providing succinct but essential historical notes on both the players and the session, including the uncredited involvement of dearly departed trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon. For collectors with a keen interest in avant-jazz and the evolution of the free jazz sound, this reissue is an excellent snapshot of a key moment in jazz history.

By Nick Cuce'

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