on 2 September 2001
Archie Shepp is more famously known for his Fire Music (Impulse!, 1965), his avant-garde antics at the Village Vanguard in the mid-1960s and for his work with Cotrane in the same period, than for Four For Trane, his first recording on the Impulse! label.
The album has renditions of four Coltrane compositions: "Syeeda's Song Flute", "Mr. Syms", "Cousin Mary" and "Naima". The first opens with a richly orchestrated introduction, which is then sharply contrasted against Shepp's tremulous, fractured delivery. Roswell Rudd offers pointed comments in the background and follows with a similarly abstract solo. The trombone had clearly evolved into unrecognisable territory since the days of J.J. Johnson and Kay Winding!
The first bars of "Mr. Syms" almost presage a dark landscape, but Shepp's arrangement is lithe and subtly textured, bringing out the passion in the composition with an understated eloquence. Alan Shorter, older brother of Wayne, contributes a remarkably impressionistic solo, setting the tone for Archie's equally poetic statement. Pity that Alan Shorter's remaining discography is so thin.
Four For Trane is a mysterious album: it is an avant-garde tribute to a living master who had yet to record his most significant avant-garde albums, A Love Supreme (1964), Ascension (1965) and Interstellar Space (1967), all on the same label as Shepp's. Trane himself appears in a contrived portrait on the cover, on which Shepp stares ahead pensively with pipe in mouth.
"Naima" is arguably the most compelling piece on the album - possibly Coltrane's most played "standard", it is magically arranged by Roswell Rudd, comparable to a tone-poem of Ellingtonian profundity. The solos are breezy and almost nebulous in their commitment to non-definition. The performance reveals both a veneration for Coltrane's compositional austerity and formal beauty, and at the same time a bleak conception of emotion far removed from Coltrane's burning urgency.
This fascinating record, a work of clarity and elegance amid the frenzy of the "New Thing", ends enigmatically with a Shepp composition whose title reveals a bizarre humour: "Rufus (Swung, his face to at last to the wind, then his neck snapped)".
Recorded in New Jersey on August 10, 1964, 'Four For Trane' is one of the truly great albums of '60s jazz.
With leader Archie Shepp on tenor saxophone, were Roswell Rudd(trombone), John Tchicai(alto saxophone), Alan Shorter(trumpet), Reggie Workman(bass) & Charles Moffett(drums) playing brilliantly arranged versions of four John Coltrane tunes plus one Shepp original.
The late jazz writer, Keith Shadwick, has described Shepp's soloing as "awash with humanity and humour" a phrase that can be equally applied to much of the powerful, bluesy music on this marvellous album.
'Four For Trane' is a neglected masterpiece that's on a par with Coltrane's famous 'A Love Supreme' recorded a few months later and is essential listening for anyone who appreciates passionate and adventurous modern jazz.