This year's iteration of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square Park concluded with a headlining set from the avant-guard innovator and free-jazz legend, Archie Shepp.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, this year's Charlie Parker Jazz Festival brought a legend to Alphabet City on a perfect summer afternoon and early evening, providing a transcendent setting for a sublime artist. Having risen to fame in the '60s as a disciple of John Coltrane, Shepp played on sessions for the all-time classic A Love Supreme (although his takes wouldn't be released for over thirty years) as well as Trane's landmark free-jazz record, Ascension. The pair also released an album of live material recorded at the famed Newport Jazz Festival only days after the Ascension sessions took place before Shepp branched out on his own to deliver his own stunning classics as he lead the foray into the unknown experimental world of the avant-guard and free-jazz eras. Adding vocals to his pieces has been part of his work for decades and on this gorgeous evening, he had the extraordinary Cécile Salvant on stage with his to deliver one of the strongest vocal performances I've seen in quite sometime. Her voice, refined and elegant, draped over each song like a velvet tapestry, elevating the grace and sophistication of each track beyond measure. The contrast of Shepp's hard-earned rasp and Salvant's flawless croon made for such stunning dynamics that were heightened by Jason Moran's slippery piano riffs that brilliantly scored their vocal duets. "Ballad for a Child" off his tremendous record Attica Blues still resonated strongly, the notes floating on the sweet summer air as the deep orange and pink hues of the sunset began to settle over to the right of the stage, it was a gentle reflection to his past with the piano and saxophone complimenting each other with sonic pleasures. "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and "Go Down Moses" were also delivered as such strong and powerful renditions, the audience fully entranced by the trio's work onstage that it felt like cheers for solos were almost delayed as people shifted their fix from one performer to the next. As far as jazz legends go, there aren't too many as significant as Shepp who are still playing gigs and to be able to see such an icon in this setting felt like a special New York moment, one that still made the magic of the city sparkle and shine.