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Friday, August 3, 2007

Archie Shepp & Dar Gnawa (ArchieBall, 2007) ****

Already in the late 60s Archie Shepp was playing music with North African traditional musicians, then in Algiers, now in Morocco. The liner notes to the 1969 album read "Sounds of creative freedom revealing possibilities and departures beyond the accepted music-forms and expressions. It is not surprising that the seriousness of the NEW music coincided with an awakening/awareness of East-West Pan Africanism and the efforts to reveal an alter culture and spiritualism, since Sound has always been the main expression of this culture, and the Innovators/Musicians of the NEW music; by their insight into our times, their dedication to fresh/er ideas had to project this music into our minds ... synthetic as they have become in present-day reality ... to display another direction into our Art Forms". Are you still there? That was apparently the kind of thing you had to write then, but the essence of it is still true for this album. Anyway, Shepp has always been open to other musical experiences, then as much as now, and although he has lost a little bit of his sense of adventure with the decades, he has definitely not lost his sense of music, neither his skills on the sax or the joy of playing with people from other musical traditions. And in that category this album is definitely a winner. The Moroccan Gnawa are the descendants of the Arab slaves brought to the north from sub-saharan Africa, and their music builds on that tradition, mixing central African rhythms with Arab influences. The musical integration that Shepp's quartet brings is very intense, hypnotic, the rhythm section and the piano propulsing the whole thing forward, and they could go on for hours, with Shepp soloing on top of it all, alternating with the traditional vocals. And Shepp is absolutely great, keeping the attention going, wailing, screaming, singing, moaning with his tenor, like in his best days. Don't expect any complex harmonic evolutions, because that's beside the point. This is all about rhythm and creating a common musical understanding and experience. Dar Gnawa are led by Maalem Abdellah Gourd, who takes the lead vocals, Abou El Gourd, Abdelkader El Khlyfy, Khalid Rahhili and Nourredine Touati, all play percussion, traditional string instruments and background vocals. The western musicians are Wayne Dockery on bass, Steve McCraven on drums and Tom McClung on piano. Shepp's music has changed a lot over the decades and at moments he moved to more mainstream playing, seeming to loose a little sense of direction, trying various other routes but none too succesfully. So it's great to hear him here in absolute top form, full of enthusiasm and intensity, clearly enjoying the interplay with the Moroccan musicians. A great album.

Listen to a sound sample
Dawn Of Freedom


Jean Francois said...

Bonjour Stef,

Listened to the sound sample and really enjoyed it. I am not really familiar with Archie Shepp's work. Definitely an album worth looking for.