Archie Shepp and the Africa Attica Blues Orchestra ‘I hear the sound’ (Archie Ball/Harmonia Mundi) 4/5

archie-sheppArchie Shepp’s 1972 Impulse album ‘Attica Blues’ broke new ground in the jazz world with its mixture of political comment on the civil rights struggle and rhythm and blues-inflected numbers that merged together gospel, swing and soul in equal measure. In celebration of that recording and with the support of jazz aficionados across the Channel, seventy-six year old Archie Shepp has revisited that recording and some other pieces from the same period with a large line-up of French and American musicians that includes both those of the early 1970s era and a new generation that have only recently discovered this historical music. The former includes the likes of trumpeter Jimmy Owens and keyboardist Amina Claudine Myers while the latter count among their ranks trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and the much vaunted Cécile McLorin Salvant. Of course ‘Blues for Brother George Jackson’ was the centre piece of the original album and this is revisited as a faithful, if somewhat extended, interpretation with collective female vocals. The title track becomes a funky uptempo update with Shepp himself offering vocals while ‘The Cry of my people’ is the kind of call and response number that Charles Mingus might have composed and the gospel-inspired female vocals are a treat. A surprise album highlight is ‘Quiet Dawn’ which is a beautifully textured piece complete with string accompaniment. Overall a real return to form from one of the most culturally significant of jazz musicians. Of note are the excellent cartoon drawings that accompany the bi-lingual (English/French) sleeve notes which have been created by Polish artist Wozniak, resident in France. Fans of Manu Chao will be familiar with the book of drawings to accompany one of the former’s more intimate CDs. This release tied in with the live performance of the album at the recent London Jazz Festival and was performed in front of an exuberant audience that some forty years on can now fully appreciate the significance of the music. Tim Stenhouse