Third day Ghent Jazz: Archie Shepp moves

Archie Shepp packed the festival tent with a poignant and heartbreakingly beautiful concert. And he was not the only eighty-plus who made an impression on day three of Gent Jazz.

Archie Shepp (*****) looked vulnerable as he scrambled up the stage with some difficulty, supported by pianist Jason Moran – the audience greeted the jazz legend with a standing ovation. But as soon as he was well and truly settled in his seat and put his tenor sax to his lips, magic hung in the air: what a sound, what a power of expression.

Shepp (85) immediately played for minutes on end, with Moran accompanying him perfectly, in two pieces from their CD released last year let my people go† Yes, Shepp has undoubtedly lost some technique over the years, and he chooses a succession of short phrases, but his sound is unique. In every note you can hear almost the entire history of jazz summarized, with a large dash of blues.

And then the saxophonist called in Marion Rampal, the French singer with whom he also played at Jazz Middelheim. She actually started with ‘Blasé’, an ancient Shepp song, with bold lyrics (‘you shot your sperm into me, but you never set me free‘) which did not escape the attentive listening audience. Rampal delivered it with a disarming natural. And in the classic ‘Ain’t misbehavin” she sang in duo with Shepp herself – it was perhaps the absolute highlight of this concert.

Shepp sang more songs, and although he doesn’t have a perfect singing voice, the power that radiates from it is phenomenal. Like in ‘Sometimes I feel like a motherless child’, in which Moran also made an impression with a thunderous, dark piano solo – with all that attention for Shepp you would almost forget that there was a real top pianist by his side.

And so we heard one musical pearl after another. A beautiful version of ‘Lush life’, for example, and Rampal who returned briefly for ‘The very thought of you’, another classic. Shepp and Moran ended with ‘Go down Moses’, containing the phrase ‘let my people go’, sort of summarizing Shepp’s political activism.

This was a breathtaking concert, without a doubt a highlight in the twenty-year history of Gent Jazz. The audience thanked Shepp with a minute-long standing ovation, which visibly pleased the man.


This was so impressive that you’d almost forget that what preceded Shepp’s set was also worth it. Like Charles Lloyd (***), at 84 years old, barely a year younger, but much more sprightly. With his band The Marvels, he mainly picked from his recent CD Tone Poemjazz with a dash of americana and even country, thanks to guitarists Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz (the latter on pedal steel). Lloyd also has a very unique sound, tender and soft, with a touch of blues. His music was even softer when he played the flute. A beautiful concert, which perhaps went a bit too much towards the end.

Gent Jazz, performance by saxophonist Charles Lloyd and guitarist Bill Frisell

Photo: Fred Debrock

The Beren Vultures (***) used more electronics this time than we were used to from them. It started out a bit strange, with drummer Simon Segers stroking his hi-hat with a bow, and pianist Fulco Ottervanger busy with all kinds of buttons. But eventually all that tinkering resulted in a happy melody. ‘Animalcules’, on the other hand, had a slightly conjuring motif, with a frisky ending. The band often opted for the experiment, with a lot of electronica, and bassist Lieven Van Pée exchanged his double bass for an electric bass in a few songs. Sometimes the band took a lot of mysterious detours, which made you wonder when the music would really explode. Fortunately, that actually happened – De Beren Gieren was at times brilliant, at times long-winded.

With Sound Prints (****) we got top jazz from American soil for the first time yesterday. Saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas mirror their great example Wayne Shorter, more specifically his series of Blue Note records from the late 1960s. The result is excellent contemporary jazz, with strong compositions by Lovano and Douglas, both virtuosos in their own right. instrument, and aided by a fine band, in which pianist Lawrence Fields in particular made an impression. Lovano cried out with joy a number of times and kept repeating how nice it was to be able to play live jazz again after two corona years ‘certainly at a festival that also has Charles Lloyd and Archie Shepp on the bill’. Wise words.