Max Roach founded a quintet with Clifford Brown in the early 1950s – here is a track from their album 'Study in Brown.' 'Jacqui' was composed by the band's pianist, Richie Powell – Bud's brother - who died in the same tragic car crash that took Brownie. The young trumpeter had also played with the other drum giant of hard bop, Art Blakey. With Max, he had a band that during their brief existence arguably stands shoulder to shoulder with the Messengers. Brown was a stunningly fiery yet beautiful player who had no problems digging out the linear gold from the density of bop harmony at synapse-baffling high speeds. No matter the tempo, he never sounds rushed - it always seems as if he has the quiet interior space and time to figure things out and spin them into patterns of melodic wonder. To get a snapshot of Max in 1955 – listen to his solo here. A lighter touch than Blakey but those rolls contain a power held in subtle reserve. Harold Land is his underrated best and it's always worth remembering Richie P.
Max and Mingus, from 'Mingus at the Bohemia.' 'Percussion discussion.' Ominous dark bowed bass and the talking drums communicate on a strange track which is edging some way from the hard bop norms of 1955 – an epochal year in jazz, symbolised by the death of Charlie Parker. In a blindfold test, I suspect this might baffle a few people as to the recording date – it sounds pretty contemporary to me, outside of the bop chink a ching cymbals into a new rhythmic ground – it slips into conventional rhythm here and there but, in the main, this is searching stuff. And another great 'conversation' (thinking of those amazing duets between Mingus and Eric Dolphy) – two iconoclasts overheard discussing the future... Max was a drummer who had a deep interest in the melodic and timbral aspects of drumming and Mingus – well, no matter how abstract he might get, that powerful, pleading, raging voice is never far away to ground things into the all-too human, channelled through the bass and his various ensembles... Interesting how this prefigures later duo performances that found Max with a variety of musicians from Cecil Taylor to Dizzie Gillespie – a track that shows his range and curiosity.
The lines criss-cross and collide – Max had played with Monk on several famous sessions and Sonny Rollins had come into his and Brownie's band a couple of years earlier. Roach and Monk, colossi of the New York scene, also originally came from North Carolina way back, Newland and Rocky Mount respectively, although Monk was a few years older. This is them all together on 'Bemsha Swing' from the 'Brilliant Corners' album. Max switches between conventional jazz kit and tympani, which gives a deep rolling bottom resonance to Monk's theme. When Max solos, it is almost like a collision between the classical and the jazz world. Conventional wisdom always states that Blakey was Monk's best drummer – and they certainly recorded some wonderful tracks. But Max is well up to the mark on this album. And he fires off a couple of rolls that equal the mighty Blakey, to show his own power. Ernie Henry has a searing bluesy edge – yet another one who died young. And Clark Terry always seemed to be easy in whatever company he found himself in – but to slip into Monk's world so gracefully points to open ears beyond mere eclecticism...
Finally: a big band session with George Russell – 'A helluva town' is taken from the composer's 1958 album 'New York, N.Y.' Lot of Max on here... he introduces the track before Jon Hendricks enters with his proto-rap: 'Think you can lick it, get to the wicket.' Etc. Then he powers the band in – noted as a small group drummer in the main, Max had played with several big bands in the forties when he was starting out so he knew the form. Hard-hitting where required or subtle cymbal work in smart flicks of the percussive whip – this last track on the album (Charlie Persip was in the chair for the rest of the session) boots along nicely – leading into a solo section where he lets rip... A helluva town. A helluva drummer...
Clifford Brown/Max Roach
Clifford Brown (t) Harold Land (ts) Richie Powell (p) George Morrow (b) Max Roach (d)
Charles Mingus (b) Max Roach (d)
Clark Terry (tp) Sonny Rollins (ts) Thelonious Monk (p) Paul Chambers (b) Max Roach (d)
Art Farmer, Ernie Royal, Joe Wilder (tp) Tom Mitchell, Frank Rehak (tb) Bob Brookmeyer (vtb) Hal McKusick, Phil Woods (as) Al Cohn (ts) Gene Allen (bars) Bill Evans (p) Barry Galbraith (g) George Duvivier (b) Max Roach (d) George Russell (arr, cond) Jon Hendricks (nar)
A helluva town