From 1964, Archie Shepp's first date as a leader featured -- as one would expect from the title -- four tunes by John Coltrane, his mentor, his major influence, and his bandleader.
The fact that this album holds up better than almost any of Shepp's records nearly 40 years after the fact has plenty to do with the band he chose for this session, and everything to do with the arranging skills of trombonist Roswell Rudd. The band here is Shepp on tenor, John Tchicai on alto, Rudd on trombone, Trane's bassist Reggie Workman, and Ornette Coleman's drummer Charles Moffett. Even in 1964, this was a powerhouse, beginning with a bluesed-out wailing version of "Syeeda's Song Flute." This version is ingenious, with Shepp allowing Rudd to arrange for solos for himself and Tchicai up front and Rudd punching in the blues and gospel in the middle, before giving way to double time by Workman and Moffett.
The rawness of the whole thing is so down-home you're ready to tell someone to pass the butter beans when listening. Rudd's arrangement of "Naima" is also stunningly beautiful: He reharmonizes the piece for the mid-register tone of Shepp, who does his best Ben Webster and adds a microtonal tag onto the front and back, dislocating the tune before it begins and after it ends, while keeping it just out of the range of the consonant throughout. Wonderful!
The only Shepp original here is "Rufus (Swung, His Face at Last to the Wind, Then His Neck Snapped)." It's not a terribly sophisticated tune, but it works in the context of this band largely because of the soloing prowess of all the members -- particularly Tchicai -- here. There is barely any melody, the key changes are commensurate with tempo shifts, and the harmonics are of the sliding scale variety.
Still, there are the blues; no one can dig into them and honk them better than Shepp. When it came to sheer exuberance and expression, he was a force to be reckoned with in his youth, and it shows in each of the tunes recorded here. Four for Trane is a truly fine, original, and lasting album from an under-celebrated musician.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
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