Socialist Worker

Archie Shepp balances hope and despair on Let My People Go

Issue No. 2743

The album cover for Let My People Go by Archie Shepp and Jason Moran

The album cover for Let My People Go by Archie Shepp and Jason Moran

In an era when many artists shun political affiliations, veteran saxophonist Archie Shepp makes a point of wearing his on his sleeve.

“I am a black Marxist. I will be till I die,” he told the French newspaper Le Monde earlier this month.

“It has always been my fight. It’s not just about intellectual ideas. It’s a feeling I share with my sisters and brothers.”

Shepp’s convictions easily find their way into the 83 year old’s latest album.

The lead track is a thorough re-working of the traditional spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child—an anti‑slavery and Civil Rights Movement anthem.

The song has always balanced somewhere between hope and despair. In its new incarnation, Shepp’s saxophone delicately plays the singing part, while Jason Moran’s piano adds dark and occasionally discordant notes.

Then Shepp comes in to sing the verses. His voice sounds aged but never fragile, even when singing the refrain, “Sometimes I feel like I’m almost gone, a long way from home.”

Why did Shepp choose the song for an album now?

Perhaps, it’s the mix of hope of the new movement for black liberation that he celebrates—and the darker possibilities in society that have also appeared.

Similar themes emerge in the song Go Down Moses. It’s a biblical parable at the corner of many songs and stories of the black freedom struggle, and which contains the line, “Let my people go”.

The album officially ends on a slightly deconstructed take on Thelonious Monk’s landmark Round Midnight. But some streamed versions contain extra tracks, including a live version of his 1975 classic Ujama.

By Archie Shepp and Jason Moran. Out now

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Fri 19 Feb 2021, 15:24 GMT
Issue No. 2743
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