Gig review: Archie Shepp in Concert, Summerhall, Edinburgh
AMERICAN saxophonist Archie Shepp first came to wide notice in the avant-garde explosion of the mid-1960s, including recording with John Coltrane. His own politicised brand of free jazz with both small groups and large ensembles courted controversy and criticism.
In the subsequent decades, his playing has mellowed and expanded, and occasionally mis-fired. Given that he is both a major name and a long-term resident in Europe, it’s odd that he has hardly ever played in Scotland, and his last (and possibly only) visit was in the early 1980s.
As a result, this rare opportunity to catch up with the saxophonist offered the prospect of a special occasion, courtesy of the opening of Summerhall, a new gallery space and venue in the former Dick Veterinary School. The concert accompanied the launch of Seven x 7th Street, an audio-visual installation by Belgian neo-pop artist Jean Pierre Muller, which opens to the public on Friday.
Things were a little shambolic on opening night, and the gig started half an hour or so late. Shepp has worked in duo formats with a pianist in the past, and that was the case here, with another American, Tom McLung, in the piano seat.
The concert took place in the former Dissection Room, which offered the odd juxtaposition of the jazz-club intimacy of the red-draped stage and the clinical if scruffy tiled walls of the room, and consequently a very bright and boomy acoustic.
Their opening set included an early composition of Shepp’s for pianist Elmo Hope, a rather scrappy take on Duke Ellington’s Don’t Get Around Much Any More (with enthusiastic vocal from the saxophonist), a switch from tenor to soprano for a piece built around his poem Revolution, a tune by Robert Wyatt – with the composer seated in the audience – and Shepp’s blues, Driving Miss Daisy.
The second set followed a similar pattern, and included Ellington’s Come Sunday, a Tom McLung tune with echoes of Rollins and Monk, and compositions by Shepp, as well as a little too much of his forgettable singing.
Inevitably, the veteran saxophonist is no longer the firebrand of old, and his intonation was often uncomfortably sharp, but he distilled decades of experience into the best sections of the set, while McLung laid down a solid harmonic foundation beneath his horn, and soloed capably when his chance came along.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 12 C to 21 C
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