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THE SUMMER OF ’69

Photographer: Gilbert Spagnoli

Writer Pierre Crépon selects recordings illustrating his essay on the American avant-garde jazz in Paris in 1969 – Crépon’s essay is published in “imagi-nation nwar”, the April 2021 issue of Chronic, which you can purchase here.

The large body of work recorded by American avant-garde jazz musicians in Paris in 1969 doesn’t lend itself well to the overview process. The scale of the recording efforts — undertaken chiefly by the BYG label for its Actuel series — was perceived then as unprecedented, and thresholds were crossed in terms of format, length, and density. The following selection therefore takes a roundabout route, via the blues, the voice, and the softer sides of free playing. This path should lead to the extended works of Cecil Taylor (Nuits De La Fondation Maeght), Alan Silva (Luna Surface), or Dave Burrell (Echoes) that could not be included and should be heard in full.

This selection opens with one of the first American musicians to make the trip to France in 1969, Cleveland alto saxophonist Arthur Jones, who plays in trio with French bassist Beb Guérin and drummer Claude Delcloo, the executive producer of most BYG Actuel sessions (1). The next track features uncredited ghaita and bandīr players recorded during the First Pan-African Cultural Festival, held in Algiers in July and August 1969 (2). Archie Shepp also famously performed during the festival. The members of his sextet are at the core of the recordings making up the nexus of the year’s activity, thirteen BYG albums taped in a single week: Grachan Moncur III, Sunny Murray, Clifford Thornton, Burrell, Silva. Those recordings are presented in the sequence in which they took place, day after day, less than two weeks after Algiers (3-7).

As 1969 rolled on and the musicians returned home, BYG seized punctual opportunities to prolong the summer. Those included the presence in Paris of Ornette Coleman associates Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, and Dewey Redman (8, 10), and the movement prompted by BYG’s ambitious Festival Actuel, held in Amougies, Belgium in October (11, 14). The America label entered the free jazz market with sessions featuring Shepp, heard here on an album sold under his name but in fact led by bluesman Chicago Beau (12). The Art Ensemble of Chicago had taken up residence in France and recorded prolifically for various labels, including Saravah, with French singer Brigitte Fontaine (13). Although only briefly involved with BYG — playing on its very first original jazz production, Kenneth Terroade’s Love Rejoice —, pianist François Tusques was a major force of avant-garde jazz activity in France. As for his American colleagues, the work excerpted here should be heard in full (9) – Pierre Crépon

Tracklist:

  1. Arthur Jones – “BT”  from Scorpio (America/BYG)
  2. Uncredited Algerian musicians – “Oboe and Percussion” from Ritmi e Strumenti Africani/African Rhythms and Instruments Vol. 3 (Albatros/Lyrichord)
  3. Grachan Moncur III – “Space Spy” from New Africa (BYG)
  4. Art Ensemble of Chicago – “Dexterity” from Message to Our Folks (BYG)
  5. Sunny Murray “Suns of Africa Part 2” from Homage to Africa (BYG)
  6. Archie Shepp – “Blasé” from Blasé (BYG)
  7. Clifford Thornton – “Pan-African Festival” from Ketchaoua (BYG)
  8. Don Cherry – “Bamboo Night” from Mu Second Part (BYG)
  9. François Tusques – “Sa triste histoire il s’offrit à dire” (excerpt) from La Chasse au snark (Cacophonic)
  10. Dewey Redman – “Tarik” from Tarik (BYG)
  11. Don Cherry – Festival Actuel, Amougies fragment (unreleased)
  12. Archie Shepp/Chicago Beau – “Epitaph of a Small Winner: Rio de Janeiro” from Black Gipsy (America)
  13. Brigitte Fontaine/Art Ensemble of Chicago – “Comme à la radio (version anglaise)” from Comme à la radio (Saravah/Yamaha)
  14. Sunny Murray“Complete Affection” from An Even Break (Never Give a Sucker) (BYG)

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