Max Roach + 4 [Bonus Tracks] (CD)

Max Roach

Currently Unavailable

Amoeba Review

John Schacht 05/15/2010

This hard-hitting set was the first Max Roach recording following the deaths six months earlier of his bandmates trumpeter Clifford Brown and pianist Richie Powell. Both were such integral components of what was arguably the best band in jazz at the time – Brown for his trumpeting brilliance and the emerging Powell for his arrangements – that replacing them in any real sense was impossible. So Roach turned to trumpeter Kenny Dorham -- whose mellifluous, mid-range comfort zone contrasted with Brown’s soaring flights – and pianist Ray Bryant, who’d backed Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Lester Young when they’d rolled through Philadelphia (Bryant was the house pianist at the Blue Note). Besides Roach, of course, holdovers Sonny Rollins (tenor) and bassist George Morrow also returned and provided much more than just continuity. Rollins is simply a terror on advanced tempo hard bop classics like George Russell’s “Ezz-Thetic” and the Cole Porter standard, “Just One of Those Things,” which the band takes at an almost cartoonish double-time pace – it’s hard to tell if the rhythm section is driving Rollins or if it’s the other way around. As if compensating for Brown’s absence, Rollins’ full-speed glissandos and powerful theme statements nearly overshadow Dorham’s understated and cool tone, and the tenor giant’s melodic invention shines on the Roach composition “Mr. X” as well as the startling cadenzas he unfurls at the close of the classic “Body and Soul” (Dorham, always a strong ballad player, also delivers the goods during his wistful solo). Roach and Morrow are in lock-step throughout, and the former’s two-minute primer on percussion “Dr. Free-Zee” is of special interest because it’s a two-track recording (overdubs were uncommon at the time) featuring Roach on drums and tympani. Bryant, too, fills in admirably, using his blues-based background to add a little funk to the high-speed numbers. As is the case in so many jazz reissues, there are three tracks taken from a date six months after this initial set (the cast is the same but for little-known Billy Wallace sitting in Bryant’s chair). Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” races by in a blur, and features Roach using his entire kit where many drummers would have their hands full keeping pace with just the ride-cymbal and snare. The relaxed tempos of “Love Letters” is the one extra track here where Wallace doesn’t seem to be overmatched by the pace and the company he’s keeping, and Rollins and Dorham (on mute) deliver quality turns. Bryant’s excellent composition “Minor Trouble” closes the reissue, and Rollins’ solo blends his power and lyricism seamlessly. You can’t fault Dorham, who’s his steady self throughout, but you’d have felt the absence of Brown no matter who was in that chair. And that’s really the only thing missing from this otherwise excellent hard bop date.

Track Listing

Disc 1 Titles
Max Roach 09:18
Dr. Free-Zee
Max Roach 02:06
Just One Of Those Things
Max Roach 07:18
Mr. X
Max Roach 05:15
Body And Soul
Max Roach 06:50
Woody 'N You
Max Roach 06:51
It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)
Max Roach 04:42
Love Letters
Max Roach 08:55
Minor Trouble
Max Roach 06:58

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