The album art for Let My People Go was created by the Polish artist Jacek Woźniak. Credit: Courtesy the artist

After saxophonist Archie Shepp became known in the 1960s as a fierce musical and political voice in what was then called the avant-garde, he charted a different path. In 1977, Shepp recorded a collection of traditional spirituals (and one jazz standard) in a duet session with pianist Horace Parlan titled Goin’ Home, which is as reverential as his earlier records are fervent. Saxophonist and pianist Jason Moran looks back at the direction and repertoire of that 70s album on the new Let My People Go, a duo with Shepp that compiles material from performances recorded in 2017 and 2018. Shepp doesn’t merely reflect quietly on the past—though Moran shares his elder’s deep appreciation for these historic works, he continuously pitches him daring changes. As Shepp’s low notes nod to swing-era tenor players on Duke Ellington’s “Isfahan,” Moran’s fast high-register runs, which might seem to work in contrast, become an ideal complement. Chicagoans may also note that Shepp’s vibrato sometimes echoes Von Freeman. On the duo’s reconstruction of John Coltrane’s “Wise One,” Moran builds a series of arpeggios that deviate from Shepp’s breathy and meditative tone while anchoring everything with hints of the blues. Shepp is also an actor and playwright, and he delivers sections of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” as appropriately wearied half-sung, half-spoken monologues. Despite the gravity of some of its material, Let My People Go never sounds too somber. The playful chord progressions that Moran tosses out at the end of Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” nod to Monk’s penchant for humor—and elicit a fun response from Shepp, who knows that challenging audiences also means constantly testing himself.   v