Besides the fearlessness of youth, based on blissful ignorance of potential consequences, there’s the fearlessness of age, resulting from staring contests with mortality that only have one winner. The latter is less easily shaken.
I remember one of the Marsalis brothers once belittling Archie Shepp to me in an interview. I have yet to hear them deploy anything like Shepp’s fearlessness. When Shepp’s volcanic tenor saxophone was shaking jazz to its foundations in the 1960s one of the many to fall under its spell was the German pianist Joachim Kuhn.
Commendably neither artist has lost his zeal across the decades for expanding possibilities. Shepp’s tenor has continued to rage against the machinations of academic jazz, while his poetry has blasted hypocrisy and bigotry. Kuhn’s formidable piano playing, meanwhile, has bounced between radically differing projects. A current one is his “Wustenjazz” (desert jazz) trio with Majid Bekkas, a Moroccan singer and virtuoso on the guembri (a plucked bass about the size of a guitar), and Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez.
Add a pool of other north African players and this stunning album journeys far and wide. On the relative serenity of Kuhn’s L’Eternal Voyage Shepp’s tenor reclines like a monster sunning itself. On the opening Kulu Se Mama (as was recorded by John Coltrane in 1965), by contrast, Shepp is given his head, and the tenor broils and seethes over the dense matts of percussion.