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Some of the most exciting jazz albums to listen to are those that try to strike a middle ground between the mainstream and the Avant-garde. One such example is Archie Shepp’s Fire Music: an often-fascinating album, rich in compositional and improvisational prowess. Employing a sextet including drummer Joe Chambers and alto saxophonist Marion Brown, Shepp puts together a record that is both challenging and accessible to most listeners. Fire Music’s masterpiece is undoubtedly Hambone. A multi-part composition, the song’s highlights are the opening theme, Ted Curson’s complex trumpet musings and a bluesy section featuring a tough and funky solo by Brown. The track’s momentum is maintained with the thematically dense Los Olvidados which features another sterling contribution by Curson. The spoken word piece Malcolm, Malcolm, Semper Malcolm is a tribute to Malcolm X and features bassist David Izenzon and drummer J.C. Moses. Fire Music is an album that belongs in any serious jazz fan’s collection. - Robert Gilbert