The historic meeting of two truly influential and individual composers, arrangers, and instrumentalists on The Long March. The album appeared in 1979 on Swiss label Hat Hut. This date pairs Max Roach and Archie Shepp playing both solo and as a duo for one night in 1979 at the Willisau Jazz Festival. Roach's truly astonishing solo "J.C. Moses" is a tribute to Detroit jazz great J.C. Heard. The kinds of rimshots, trap stops and starts, and continuous rolling thunder take the breath away and make the listener wonder if this is really only one drummer. Next up is Shepp's solo tenor reading of Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," where he coaxes all the ballad's idiosyncrasies and fluidly combines them with his new jazz flourishes, without once disrespecting the integrity of the original.
Improvisation assumes a fresh experience, an unfamiliarity with what is to come, a disruption of expectations. How much more intense and disorienting the experience becomes in the music of Markus Eichenberger and Daniel Studer. Each one has an impressive résumé of musical adventures, but as a duo their music expresses special qualities and asks challenging questions. Suspended offers no customary structures, no consistent prototypes; the titles are not instructions, illustrations, or explanations. Manipulating an abstract dialect of sounds, many of them in the grey area between recognizable pitch and expressive noise, they initiate a system of relationships that allows – requires – the listener to participate in the spontaneous search for meaning.
There is a tendency to see jazz performance divided between uptempo numbers and ballads, but Adkins is perhaps concerned with something different, a thoughtful, alert, observant gait – Henry David Thoreau preferred to talk about ‘sauntering’ – that offers the player a new relationship with his surroundings. Adkins’ immediate surroundings are familiar enough, the group he unveiled on a previous hatOLOGY 660 recording Rotator; only the bassist is a newcomer. Saxophone, piano, bass fiddle and drums – nothing new there, one might think. Except that Adkins does propose a new relationship between the constituent elements…These themes invite the listener to join the company, take a stroll, ‘let him be drawn by the attractions of the terrain’ and the encounters he might find there. We walk. We listen. We’ll hear.
Helen Merrill's first American record since 1968 (she had spent much time in Japan) is mostly a duet set with pianist John Lewis; three songs also have flutist Hubert Laws, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Connie Kay. The emphasis is on ballads, with all of the nine songs (other than the pianist's "The Singer") being quite well-known. The obvious empathy between Merrill and Lewis is well displayed on such numbers as "Django" (which has rarely been sung), "Angel Eyes," "Alone Together" and "Mad About the Boy." An introspective set full of subtle creativity.