Both were involved in St. Louis’ Black Artists Group. Shaw’s was more directly connected with one of Bluiett’s World Saxophone Quartet compatriots, Oliver Lake, whose quartet, including Shaw, worked in Europe. If you’re looking for a Bluiett connection, though, he and Shaw were together as late as 2015, when Bluiett’s Telepathic Orchestra played New York’s Vision Festival.
Shaw is one of the many blank spots in my jazz knowledge, maybe because he’s more connected with funky jazz (such as the band DeFunkt) than with the “free” stuff. I’ve been checking out the Human Arts Ensemble, a group that he ended up leading in the late ’70s, which has been a blast.
I love the rough edges on Junk Trap (Black Saint, 1978), the raspy horn tones and the jumbly, not-quite-synched unison lines. The album features a crack band — Shaw (drums), Joseph Bowie (trombone), John Lindberg (bass), Luther Thomas (sax), James Emery (guitar) — so the rawness isn’t a lack of ability; it has more to do with the pure joy being poured into the music. On “Night Dreamer,” Emery even starts channeling Sonny Sharrock; I’m not sure it completely fits that particular tune, but it sure is fun.
But it’s the 1973 album Funky Donkey that shows the Human Arts Ensemble really pushing the needle. The title track is a funk fireball, and “Una New York,” composed by Shaw, has a more mellow vibe but is no less earnest.
I’m sorry I didn’t catch up with Shaw during his lifetime, but I’m grateful for the history lesson.
(Plate o’ Shrimp moment: Another of Shaw’s bands, Solidarity Unit Inc., gets a shout-out by Bryon Coley and Thurston Moore in this 2009 Arthur magazine article. Just above that is a mention of pianist François Tusques — someone else I only recently discovered — performing on Sonny Murray’s Big Chief album.)