This is one of the best and most overlooked Impulse albums of the free jazz era. Archie Shepp's fire music is an album essential to any jazz collection.
Actually, Fire Music is hardly free jazz at all. The album starts with Hambone. The convulsive piece is highly arranged and orchestrated, with scary, dark, dissonet chord blocks, to which the band plays almost in unison (I'll get to that ALMOST shortly) It breaks in the middle to a blues, and then it is back to the full frontal assult of the beginning.
More orchestrations abound: especiially on the second track, and on the rendition of Jobim's Girl From Ipanina. Shepp used Elingtonion princeibles on all these arrangemets, with Ted Curson on trumpet, Marion Brown on Alto and Joe Orange on trombone. "Malcom" is Shepps elegy to Malcom X read over a bowed bass and some free jamming sax.
But if Shepp used Ellington as a guidepost for arranging, he certianly did not as a guidepost for mood. This is a pitch dark, violent, scary album. Not so out of place when you think of 1965: bus boycotts, Bull Conners fire hoses and police dogs, Medger Evers and Malcom X recently slain, the cities looted and burning, and men lynched for looking at a girl the wrong way. These were witchy, brass knuckle times, and Fire Music puts all the brutallity vicerally on vynal. I am only 40, but I can understand what the era was like when I play Fire Music.
Now, we have the music, gorgeous in all its long ago riotous horror, but the arrangments raise a question: you'll notice if you are fortunate enough to hear Fire Music that when the horns play together, they come in a bit off, as if the players had missed their cue and are landing half a beat too soon or late. (PLEASE COMMENT: does anybody else notice this, or am I nuts???) I have a hard time beleiving that musicians of this calibre would make a mistake like this through a session. I wonder if this was done on purpose, to create an almost dixiland chaos. The effect is extreamely jarring, but adds to the intruge of the album. It is definately not like the perfection of, say, Mingus' big band records of this time, but it will definately draw you in to Shepp's ugly beauty of a vortex.
That aside, this is one of the most emotional albums I have ever heard. If you have any sense, you'll be hearing it soon, too.