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The Way Ahead

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Editors’ Notes

Ron Carter has given jazz some of its thickest, most memorable bass lines, but few leave as deep an imprint as “Damn If I Know (The Stroller).” Opening Archie Shepp’s 1968 The Way Ahead, Carter forms a molasses slow blues figure that refuses all brevity. It seems like ages before Shepp’s gravelly tenor joins in, signaling the start of a loping jam that embraces both jazz cool and blues menace. Shepp is as willing to leave space blank as he is to fill it up, a deliberate maneuver that requires no small amount of courage. Though other horn players are featured on The Way Ahead, the bulk of the album is an exchange between Shepp’s tenor, Carter’s bass, and the drums of either Beaver Harris or Roy Haynes. There's so much confidence and fearlessness in the tone of Shepp’s tenor that the other musicians have no choice but to respond with driving force. As spare as they are, standouts such as “Frankenstein” and “Fiesta” dance on the edge of confrontation.


Born: May 24, 1937 in Fort Lauderdale, FL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Archie Shepp has been at various times a feared firebrand and radical, soulful throwback and contemplative veteran. He was viewed in the '60s as perhaps the most articulate and disturbing member of the free generation, a published playwright willing to speak on the record in unsparing, explicit fashion about social injustice and the anger and rage he felt. His tenor sax solos were searing, harsh, and unrelenting, played with a vivid intensity. But in the '70s, Shepp employed a fatback/swing-based...
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