JJ 11/81: Archie Shepp – Looking At Bird

Forty years ago Mike Shera wondered if it was wise for the swing-free Shepp to move into the mainstream. First published in Jazz Journal November 1981


Archie Shepp is a brave man. He is totally exposed musically for most of the 41 minutes of this album, with only a bassist for accompaniment (although Niels-Henning is hardly any old bass player!). By playing the music of Charlie Parker, he invites comparison with other saxophone players who have essayed these tunes. I regret to report that the comparison does not place him in a very favourable light, on two counts – he swings almost not at all, and he is not a very convincing blues player.

The album is saved by the bass playing of Niels-Henning, a much more interesting soloist than Shepp. Best track is Ocean, where Shepp’s absence of swing is less of a problem, and where he puts together some interesting ideas. Niels-Henning’s playing is quite stunning on this track. I really wonder whether it was wise for Shepp to attempt the move into the mainstream.

Moose The Mooche; Embraceable You; Ornithology; Billie’s Bounce (22.05) – Yardbird Suite; Blues For Alice; How Deep Is The Ocean; Confirmation (21.55)
Archie Shepp (ts/ss); Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (b). 7/2/80.
(Steeplechase SCS 1149)