The reissue on CD by Delmark of “The New York Contemporary Five” under Archie Shepp’s name is welcome for fans of early examples of “free jazz.” The group was actually a cooperative, with cornet from Don Cherry, alto sax from the Danish born John Tchicai, Shepp on tenor, Don Moore on bass and J.C. Moses on drums. Recorded in November, 1963 at the legendary Denmark club, Jazzhus Montmartre, the six performances here present a document of the exploratory direction of much music of the time. The trumpeter and composer, Bill Dixon, who recently passed away, arranged three of the performances and introduced the ensemble. There are originals by Cherry, Shepp and Tchicai along with two Ornette Coleman compositions and a straight rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Crepuscule With Nellie.”
Cherry’s “Cisum,” opens with his cornet evoking “Fanfare for the Common Man,” before stating the theme leading to his solo backed by the rhythm with his interesting mix of burst of notes and more melodic lines as he rides over Moses’ rhythm. Cherry is followed by Tchicai who builds on repeated phases while employing the higher register of his alto. Shepp enters into like a buzz saw with a machine gun like attack. Ornette Coleman’s “O.C.,” is built upon a swinging jump riff and groove with Shepp first up taking a raspy solo that mixes Ben Webster with Big Jay McNeeley, followed by Cherry who is the most consistently interesting solo on this date. This is followed by the another Coleman composition “When Will the Blues Leave,” that has one of Coleman’s most memorable themes with a jaunty groove that Cherry explores with some of his most melodic playing on this date. Cherry doleful tone opens Shepp’s dirge, “The Funeral,” with the saxophones contributing to the mood and a relatively quiet passage where Moore and Moses are to the fore before some organized chaos at the close. Tchicai’s “Mik,” opens with a riff that evokes Tadd Dameron, with a bluesy solo followed by some bright playing from Cherry over a seemingly meter-less rhythm.
There is some excellent playing with Cherry and Tchicai especially exceptional. Moore and Moses do not strike this listener as organic a rhythm combo compared to say Charlie Haden and Eddie Blackwell (or Billy Higgins) with Ornette, or Henry Grimes or Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray with Albert Ayler. Moses spent time with Roland Kirk, recorded with Eric Dolphy and was a house drummer at Jazzhus Montmartre playing with such as Dexter Gordon and Ben Webster in a vein that shows his strengths better. Still, that is a minor issue as listeners should be pleased to have this readily available again.
For FTC purposes the review copy was provided by Delmark Records.