Archie Shepp & Jason Moran: Let My People Go 

In 2018 saxophonist and singer Shepp added another example to his substantial series of duos with pianists


This is a re-release of an album that first appeared soon after its recording in 2017-2018. I’m delighted to be able to review it this time round because it’s a contemporary classic. I’ve long been a fan of the Archie Shepp albums of blues and spirituals that he recorded with Horace Parlan – Goin’ Home (1977) and Trouble In Mind (1980), both on SteepleChase. They’ve been Desert Island discs of mine since they appeared.

Shepp and Parlan also recorded a duo album of standards, and the saxophonist has recorded duos with Dollar Brand later aka Abdullah Ibrahim, Jasper van’t Hof, Mal Waldron and Joachim Kühn (and possibly others I’ve overlooked). On two tracks of Let My People Go, featuring leading modernist Jason Moran, two of the spirituals are reprised, to glorious effect.

The album was recorded live at the Jazz à la Villette festival in Paris and the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Mannheim. Shepp was 83 when he made these recordings, and he found a sympathetic partner in Moran, 37 years his junior. Apart from the two spirituals that appeared on Goin’ Home, all the tracks are standards or originals.

The version of the spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child is even more compelling, in some respects, than the original. Shepp sings in its later part, while on Go Down Moses he sings the album’s title line “Let my people go.” That line is appropriate because Shepp has always been involved with civil rights. He wrote political theatre pieces, and released albums responding to current events such as the Attica prison uprising.

This was the Shepp/Moran duo’s first recording, and all tracks are of a high standard. Apart from the spirituals, Isfahan stands out, the Ellington composition from his 1967 Far East Suite. If Shepp’s playing doesn’t quite equal that from the 70s and 80s, he’s in great form.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child; Isfahan; He Cares; Go Down Moses; Wise One; Lush Life; Round Midnight (61.25)
Shepp (ts, ss, v); Moran (p). Paris, 2017; Mannheim, 2018.
Archieball (Autra) ARCH2101