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Friday, August 17, 2007

ubu's Max Roach Memorial listen

Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker

Here are some impressions about the tough but rewarding ride I just finished... (relaxin' with Sonny Stitt's "Deuces Wild" now, a gift I just got from a friend).

Thanks a lot, Max, for all the great music!

I started with Percussion Bitter Suite (covered in the previous Roach post), then went on with the following albums:

It's Time (Impulse!, 1962) - one of the best of those chorus albums. Max stands out here, his playing is so poised - awesome! Jordan has many fine spots and so has Richard Williams - too bad he wasn't getting more exposure, a very fine musician in any context I've heard him in (Jones/Lewis big band, Gigi Gryce, Mingus, his sole leader album on Candid, Lateef...)

Speak, Brother, Speak! (Fantasy/OJC, 1962) - Much better than most reviews want us to think! Jordan is on fire, Waldron does his long meandering lines. And Eddie Khan holds his own with a much earthier sound and delivery than Art Davis, more a felt bass player, but very much there, all of the time! And again Roach is doing great! This is a fairly simple, blowing album (though the two long numbers, or at least the first 25 minute long title track, are some kind of suites with various parts in changing tempos), other than the music preceeding it - the last Mercury albums, the Candid and the two Impulses all had larger line-ups and/or more thorough concepts and arrangements. Here they just blow, and it's good to hear them doing that! And the music is earthy and soulful, and yes, it swings!

The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan (Atlantic, 1964) - a weird one... all the hype about that Hasaan chap is more hot air than anything - not really a huge loss that he remained legendary... however, he's a fun pianist to listen to, there's no denying that! The main point of interest here though, is Roach's highly creative drumming and Art Davis' bass providing a great bottom for the music - their playing together is simply terrific here!

Drums Unlimited (Atlantic, 1965/66) - Very nice one! The short solos are terrific, and the groove hit by Jymie Merritt and Ronnie Mathews (he sounds a lot like Bobby Timmons here) on "Nommo" is terrific! Freddie Hubbard is at his aggressive best - I quite like him as a sideman on most album's I've heard him (he appears on so many important albums!), while I don't like his leader dates that much... or I rather listen to them for the bands, not for him. Anyway, he's serious here! There's also the live date from the band's tour in late '66 where Hubbard asks the (white, of course) audience in Graz, Austria, to kiss his black ass... I'll have to play that again soon!

Lift Every Voice and Sing (Atlantic, 1971)- A collection of spirituals (except for #2 by one Patricia Curtis and Max Roach), arranged for choir and the Roach group, at that stage (1971) including Cecil Bridgewater and the great Billy Harper who does some apeshit soloing here - great! George Cables is on electric piano. I like this one a lot. It's more of its time and less a great piece of art than "It's Time", I think, but it has a lot going on, there's a certain aggressiveness in the music that reaches out and grabs me!

Now playing Members, Don't Git Weary (Atlantic, 1969) - and guess what, this (and also Lift Every Voice) is where for me - unintentionally - the focus while listening shifts away more and more from Max, towards the other musicians. Tolliver is great, Bartz also contributes a few nice solos (and his composition "Libra"), and Stanley Cowell is great to have on any album from that period... I'd have preferred Merritt on double bass, though... his sound on "Nommo" (Drums Unlimited) is so fat and boomy, he'd have had a better groove than on electric bass... and about Roach, I guess this is where he kind of started losing his great, aggressive, individual style of drumming (now this is crap, put in such general words, I know...) ... now this doesn't mean "Members" is a bad album, not even a mediocre one, there's plenty of good music on it, but Max' own playing ain't quite so exciting any longer... (even though - I doubt I could, though - some may hear it's Max within one bar from any of the tunes...)

Addition: Merritt is partly on double bass (for instance on the title track) - but I'd wished he'd be on it on the funky opening number, for instance!


cooljazz said...

It would be nice if you posted Max Roach's album: Speak Brother Speak. Thank you.

ubu said...

If you had a look around here, you'll notice I don't post officially released music usually!
Even less if it's readily in print: