New York Contemporary Five
Fontana : 1963

Archie Shepp, tenor sax; Don Cherry, trumpet; John Tchicai, alto sax; Don Moore, bass; J. C. Moses, drums.

The New York Contemporary Five barely lasted a year all told, but they recorded five albums that shaped the jazz to come. They were a supergroup after the fact – the stellar frontline of Don Cherry, Archie Shepp, and John Tchicai all being relative newcomers at the time. Cherry had recently left Ornette Coleman and was only starting to stretch into world music. Shepp was fresh off a stint with Cecil Taylor and had just found his voice as a composer and performer. And Tchicai was virtually unknown, period.

Their scorching music – aided by the supple and hard-hitting rhythm section of Don Moore and J. C. Moses – is a thrilling mix of adventurous soloing and post-bop structures, memorable heads and go-for-broke improv. Shepp and Tchicai offered two different ways forward for sax players. Shepp privileged texture, density, and fragmentation. A pointillist take on Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins, perhaps. Tchicai was a master of melodic invention, teasing out hard and bright phrases that seem unpredictably off-kilter.

What’s still remarkable about these tunes is their sense of internal tension. They’re wound tighter than a magnet coil – without sacrificing any  spontaneity. There’s little that’s strictly free about this jazz, but it’s full of reckless and unexpected drama all the same. “Consequences” is the record’s barnburner, built on fiery performances and climaxing with a Don Cherry solo that sounds like the aural equivalent of a fifty foot skid mark. Their version of Bill Dixon’s “Trio” is contemplative by comparison, offering a loping groove, overlapping textures, and a series of wonderfully sustained solos that show off the stylistic strengths of each player.

Not many jazz fans may have picked up their records, but there’s no doubt that their fellow musicians were listening closely to the New York Contemporary Five. (For a fascinating and informed look at what came next for John Tchicai, here’s Bill Shoemaker on the New York Art Quartet, just published in Point of Departure.)

* * *

What are your favorite super groups?

Discussion14 Comments Category Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, John Tchicai, New York Contemporary Five Tags , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 Responses to SUPERGROUP!

  1. Christ, the blowing is strong on these recordings. I’d always been put off by the NYC5’s group dynamic, having heard the Montmarte album first; the rhythm section, Moses in particular (whom I really enjoy in other contexts), is so unbelievably scattered and insensitive on that recording, and the weighted, dense sound of the arrangements (redolent I guess of the Shepp/Rudd orchestrations on Shepp’s earlier Impulse albums) are executed with very little finesse. I guess it was always my sense that this group comprised less than the sum of its parts.

    Not so, I supppose, with either these recordings or those sides split with Dixon on Savoy, which reveal a much more coherent group sound–a nice balance between ferocity and intellectualism.

    The only supergroups I can wrap my mind around at the moment: the original Lifetime (either with or without Jack Bruce), probably the paragon (for me, with Mwandishi) of early electric jazz ensembles, Old and New Dreams, the members of whom I don’t recall ever recording together in a small group setting before that band’s formation, and the Brotherhood of Breath (upon whose story I am sitting, having a mound of thesis research packed into my hard drive that I want to revise, slightly, before publishing, revealing here in order to goad myself into productivity).

  2. Air
    Last Exit

  3. globe unity orchestra
    brötzmann’s chicago tentet
    last exit
    die like a dog

  4. I am wrestling with the terms “super group” and/versus “supergroup.” In a jazz context, where there are so many (qualitative, quantitative and other) combinations or permutations, what do those terms even mean? Without giving it much thought, the Brotherhood of Breath, ROVA and the WSQ spring to mind, but I don’t think they truly satisfy the term, especially given their longevity and recording activity, and especially if super group means one-off (or, since the blog is focused on officially released recordings, if super-group implies an officially released, one-off recording). How about Roots (with Arthur Blythe, Chico Freeman, Sam Rivers, Don Pullen, et al.? The group was a super group, the subject matter was somewhat unusual for the group, and they were sort of a one-off. if we’re not so limited in scope, then in addition to the groups I mentioned, I’d add Air, SToNY, a heap of different Braxton groups, a heap of different Vandermark groups, a heap of different John Zorn groups, etc., etc.

  5. Clarinet Summit: John Carter, Alvin Batiste, Jimmy Hamilton, David Murray

  6. Clarinet Summit’s a good addition. Slideride with Ray Anderson, et al.’s a similarly conceived delight.

  7. any group with don cherry and don morre is an automatic win and listening to these recordings further solidifies that

  8. bah i double typed the wrong key

  9. Fieldwork
    4 Corners

  10. Okay, this is sort of cheap because I’ve never heard the music, but can we all marvel at the line-up on Heiner Goebbel’s “The Man In the Elevator” –

    Charles Hayward – drums, percussion
    Fred Frith – guitar, bass
    Heiner Goebbels – piano, synthesizer
    Ned Rothenberg – saxophone, bass clarinet
    George Lewis – trombone
    Ernst Stötzner – voice
    Arto Lindsay – voice, guitar
    Don Cherry – voice, trumpet, strings [doussn' gouni]

  11. “The Man in the Elevator”/”Der Mann in Fahrstuhl” is well worth hearing, and is more than the sum of its parts (I won’t say that it has its ups and downs…). I was privileged to see a live presentation of it at FIMAV in Victoriaville, Quebec, in 1987. Here is that line-up, courtesy of Chris Cutler’s “Long Taxonomical Biography”:

    # Victoriaville Festival with Heiner Goebbels/Heiner Muller’s ‘Man in the Elevator’. With Fred Frith, Arto Lindsay, Andre Duchesne, Alfred Harth and Don Cherry.

    The piece alternates songs and texts in English and German on the CD, English and French in the FIMAV production. If I recall correctly, the singers were at the front of the stage, and the instrumentalists were behind them on platforms with scaffolding, similar to the set of “Hollywood Squares”…I probably still have my cassette of the show somewhere. At the end, I asked Arto to do a station ID for WCSB, Cleveland State’s radio station, where I was a programmer at the time, and he said something to the effect of “I’m Arto Lindsay and I just gave the worst performance of my life.” (It was fine.)

  12. Very cool blog, thanks!
    Have fun checking out one of my favorite artists: Catya Maré…you won´t regret it!
    She recently won both the Billboard World Song Contest and Hollywood Music in Media Award and released her third album last week….

  13. This post has been up long enough for my sluggish mind to finally think of my favorite supergroup: Sonny Sharrock’s line-up from his CD “Ask the Ages”, consisting of Sharrock on guitar, Pharoah Sanders on sax, Charnett Moffett on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Awesome! All of the other suggestions thus far are good choices too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>