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For decades, hip-hop artists have engaged in their own brand of fusion by drawing on the canons of jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, whose “Night in Tunisia” was sampled in the 1989 Gang Starr standard-setter “Words I Manifest.” Usually, though, these icons have been passive participants in the process, as opposed to helping to shape new works. But legendary saxophonist Archie Shepp is a key contributor to Ocean Bridges, which teams him with nephew Jason Moore, a.k.a. rapper Raw Poetic, and producer/DJ Earl “Damu the Fudgemunk” Davis, and his bold aesthetic clearly inspired this fascinatingly free-form exploration of the places where the genres intersect.
The casually linked pieces are based on musical improvisation by Shepp and a gifted group of collaborators. Davis contributes on drums and vibraphone in addition to turntable-scratching, and he’s joined by guitarist Pat Fritz, bassist Luke Stewart, tenor saxophonist/percussionist Jamal Moore, drummer/percussionist Bashi Rose and Aaron Gause, whose playing on synthesizer and Wurlitzer electric piano generates an irresistibly funky atmosphere. But Shepp stands out, particularly on a series of seven tracks dubbed “Professor Shepp’s Agenda,” during which he delivers the raw, unfiltered emotion (along with occasional pointed commentary) that’s long been his stock in trade.Just as vital are Shepp’s efforts on tunes in which lyrics are at the forefront. Moore’s fierce rhymes on tunes such as “Sugar Coat It,” in which he spits about “gunshots, bullets that grip air/despair, love in violent air,” underscore a socially conscious kinship with the man who made recordings such as Attica Blues. And Shepp obviously feels the connection. On “Aperture,” his sax blasts goad Moore to even greater heights, resulting in a sonic blend that erases the distance between generations and musical styles. All that remains is passion, and it’s beautiful. — Michael Roberts LISTEN OR BUY: