From the moment Jasper Van't Hof lays a finger on the synthesizer, unrolling a plush carpet of electronic music, it's clear that "Mama Rose" is not going to be your typical Archie Shepp album. The brash interplay often found on Shepp's small-group recordings has been replaced by a cozier relationship between keyboard and saxophone on this series of duets, recorded in concert in West Germany in 1982.
The most moving performance is the title track, the only one of the album's five selections written by Shepp. A stirring recitation with an autobiographical slant, it's dedicated to Shepp's grandmother and "the struggle that transpired in the Sixties," and concludes with an impassioned soprano saxophone solo.
Van't Hof, a veteran of many European ensembles, seems inordinately fond of minimalistic rhythmic effects and simulating rock-guitar runs. The sheer variety of instruments at his disposal, both electronic and acoustic, allows him to anticipate and respond to Shepp's solos in infinitely colorful ways. The result is the exotic contours of "Kalimba" and the sweeping chromaticism of "Recovered Residence." Once Van't Hof establishes the mood, Shepp has no trouble making it meaningful and memorable.