There comes a time when musical expression flows directly from the soul—unimpeded, unfiltered. Unmasked. A point when the modes of expression—the way a person plays and sings, the way he walks and talks and even wears his hat—are all on the same wavelength, all drawing from the same inner spirit. Their music reveals not just who the individual musician might be, but reflects who we all are. Message, music, and identity weave together into one.
Archie Shepp, more than sixty years into a career of supreme dedication, has devoted a lifetime to this idea of spiritual singularity. His vast discography is peppered with moments of deep connection: small ensembles and big bands. Significant studio projects and equally historic live performances, as sideman, leader, and very often, collaborator.
A special thread connects the saxophone/piano duets and makes them standout, Shepp’s meetings with such greats as Horace Parlan, Joachim Kühn, Mal Waldron, Jasper Van’t Hof, and Abdullah Ibrahim (back when he went as Dollar Brand.) Four hands, two instruments, one common statement. Shepp has found a way to consistently excel in this space, as a speaker and as a listener. Much of it has to do with the intensity of the interaction between the two voices, how that space allows the dialogue to stand out. Shepp, in all these instances, has elevated it further: developing these conversations with just the right amount of form and freedom.
Neither Shepp nor Jason Moran are old, and neither are they young—except in spirit and delight. Moran is the more recent arrival, and he’s no new kid on the block. They carry age and experience in their playing as much as a youthful fascination with the songs and forms that define this tradition we call jazz. Let My People Go is the timely title of this collection, but when has that message not been relevant? Now, sadly, as ever.
This is their first recording together, a gathering of duet performances from 2017 and 2018, chronicling a relationship that can sound like the intimate huddling of two old friends: whispered asides, excited exclamations, utterances coinciding with practiced harmony, followed by bursts of laughter. “Ain’t misbehavin’!” cries out one. “Waahhhh!!”, says the other. (That’s really Shepp speaking both parts—but you get the idea.)