Archie Shepp may not have executed his ideas with the same technical dexterity I imagine of earlier years. However in his mid-eighties, he still delivered a beautifully effectual experience that transcended any physical limitations. Alongside Jason Moran, their musical ideas revealed their reverence towards the plight of inequality and the complexities around the need to love and be loved. But it was in their high regard for playing with space and timing that allowed their strength of message to punch straight to the heart.
Jazz singer Marion Rampal joined them on stage for several numbers and elevated the performance. She leaned right into Shepp’s poetic composition ‘Blasé’, animating a condemning take on male- to- male love. Her punctuation and tone really brought a feminine empathy to the spoken word piece. The number finished with an exchange of passionate vocals between Shepp and Rampal, dancing around each other with palpable chemistry.
A most poignant moment was during Shepp and Moran’s interpretation of an old spiritual ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’. With a climax seeing Moran karate-chopping the high keys and Shepp letting loose with his vocals, the audience were hooked on every note and every word. This ended with an ecstatic standing ovation.
Archie Shepp is well known for his unwavering contribution to the free-jazz, black rights activist movements that peaked in America in the 1960s, striving to reach oppressed audiences via his compositions. He has stated in previous interviews he wants to be known simply for trying to fight for equality. He should be proud that he is firmly standing by this.
It seems that Shepp may have softened over time in the accessibility of his musical approach, maybe due to age or maybe in an attempt to reach a wider audience. But his dedication to his cause is still as clear as ever. Moran is a great partner for him, with ‘cat chasing the mouse’ fingers across the piano keys, full of compassion, he has complete freedom in expression of difficult ideas.
The night finished with their rendition of ‘Let My People Go’. This perfectly bookended the gig rounding the corners of their message, that in order for there to be an equal flourishing of life, society needs to let go. Let go of power and let go of control.
Photos ©: Tatiana Gorilovsky