Deeds, Not Words: MAX ROACH
Roach, drums; Booker Little, trumpet; George Coleman, tenor sax;
Ray Draper, tuba; Art Davis, bass.
(Conversation is an unaccompanied drums solo.) New York; September 4, 1958
You Stepped Out Of A Dream (7:45) (Kern – Brown)
Filide (7:06) (Ray Draper)
It’s You or No One (4:12) (Cahn – Styne)
Jodie's Cha-Cha (4:56) (Bill Lee)
Larry-Larue (5:11) (Booker Little)
Conversation (3:47) (Max Roach)
Certainly one of the truest signs of greatness in any artist is an inability ever to stand still, to rest on accumulated honors and stop creating. MAX ROACH has to date accomplished much in jazz – Deeds, Not Words is a title that could also be applied to his career as a whole – but one of the strongest indications of his status as a major jazz figure is that he has this inability to stop, as is clearly shown by the fact that there is much that is new and experimental in this album by his latest group.
Roach has been closely (and deservedly) associated with the best ever since he almost literally stepped out of high school and onto a bandstand alongside Charlie Parker in Harlem in 1942. He was on the early 52nd Street scene with Bird, Dizzy, Miles Davis, J. J. Johnson and the like; has remained very much in the front of the picture ever since; and is surely the most widely influential of modern drummers. In an early-1958 Down Beat article, Don Gold described Roach as “a member of that elite . . . handful of jazzmen whose prominence is unquestioned by all factions,” and noted accurately that his “career . . . reads like a history of modern jazz.”
These are impressive credentials, but they should not in any way be taken to suggest that Max is some sort of grand old man of jazz, gently resting on his laurels. Nothing I can think of off-hand could be further from the truth. Not only is Roach young by any standards (he was born, in Brooklyn, in 1925, which makes him a scarcely-creaking 33 years old at the time of this recording), but he very strongly considers himself to be still learning and growing musically, still very much an explorer of new paths.
Actually, it is his vast and early-acquired experience that makes possible the kind of exploration with which he is currently concerned. For he has the maturity and professional stature to be a successful band-leader, and he happens to have an approach to the role of leader that is rather unique in small-band jazz today.
Far too many small units are hastily assembled and quickly shifting groups designed either to spotlight the leader or to present a not-necessarily-compatible handful of “stars” under the name of the biggest drawing card among them. That has never been the case with a Max Roach group. Since 1954, when he first formed his own band, with the late Clifford Brown, the units that Max has headed have been stable and cohesive, with a firm musical point of view. Formidable stars have either begun or substantially enhanced their reputation while with Roach: Brown, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham. When Rollins and then Dorham left to head groups of their own, Max made the necessary one-at-a-time replacements, but seemed unable to settle on a permanently jelled line-up. So, early in 1958 he decided to blow the whistle and start fresh with a completely new band and a new idea.
The sidemen appearing here are strikingly young (Ray Draper is 17, Booker Little barely 20) and exceedingly talented. Little and George Coleman are both from Memphis, although Max first heard them in Chicago. Draper is a New Yorker with a rare ability to blow jazz tuba; Art Davis is the sort of strong, firm bassist so necessary in Roach’s non-piano scheme of things. Altogether a group currently able to play in the same league with Max and also in a position to be shaped, to a degree, as they develop with him.
The mere idea of a pianoless group is of course not new; there have been several since Gerry Mulligan first dared it in 1952, and Max himself had pared down to a no-piano quartet with his precious personnel. (It was perhaps an inevitable step for him. For Roach has always been anxious to do much more than just keep time – I have heard him described as an “almost-melodic” drummer. And since it has become standard jazz procedure for both bass and piano frequently to depart from strict rhythmic time-keeping, things could get pretty busy around a Roach group with ‘normal’ rhythm instrumentation!)
But at the core of most pianoless groups you will find some horn player’s complaint about piano chords interfering with his solo work. Roach, who would appear to be the first to approach the deletion of piano from a drummer’s viewpoint, was seeking to emphasize the freedom and flexibility afforded the rhythm instruments, both in their own playing and in their relationship to the horns. And with the addition of a tuba, his concepts really seem to come into focus. The flexibility is greatly increased, for Draper functions at times as a third frontline horn (providing a new and intriguing ensemble blend ), and at times as a third member of the rhythm section. Filide, trumpet and tenor are together in front, while tuba and bass play a second melodic line. On It’s You or No One, where the tuba works as an ensemble horn, the arrangement calls for only the bass to maintain the beat; Max specifically does not play strict time, but can vary his meter with horn-like ‘freedom.’
To produce valid and coherent jazz within the framework of this flexible approach obviously requires considerable cooperation and hard work. Max feels that his young and eager band is more than equal to the challenge. “I’ve never known a group before that wanted to rehearse so much,” he says. But this does not mean that there is any lack of spontaneity. You stepped Out of a Dream, one of their most complex-sounding and most effective numbers, stems from a ‘head’ arrangement, mutually worked out in the playing.
Among the other “new” elements here are tunes by promising young writers – on this album there are contributions by Draper and Little, and also two impressive numbers by a young Chicago bassist, Bill Lee. Still another departure is to be noted in Roach’s solo work: customarily, when a drummer takes over, all else stops; but here (as in Jodie’s Cha-Cha and Larry-Larue) Max calls for rhythmic bass support, in an effort to get further away from purely percussive fireworks and towards solos on the same order as those of any other instrumentalist. Finally, as there should be on an album bearing his name, there is a completely solo opportunity (Conversation) for Roach to demonstrate some of the awesome, and awesomely varied, things he can do.
Roach has appeared in supporting roles on such Riverside albums as –
Brilliant Corners: THELONIOUS MONK, with Sonny Rollins, Ernie Henry (RLP 12-226)
Jazz Contrasts: KENNY DORHAM, with Sonny Rollins (RLP 12-239)
That’s Him: ABBEY LINCOLN Sings, with Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham, Wynton Kelly (RLP 12-251)
The Modern Touch: BENNY GOLSON Sextet; with J. J. Johnson, Kenny Dorham (RLP 12-256)
Freedom Suite: SONNY ROLLINS (RLP 12-258)
Other outstanding Riverside LPs include –
Mulligan Meets Monk: THELONIOUS MONK and GERRY MULLIGAN (RLP 12-247)
Monk’s Music: THELONIOUS MONK Septet; with Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey, John Coltrane (RLP 12-242)
CHET BAKER in New York; with Johnny Griffin (RLP 12-281)
Portrait of Cannonball: JULIAN ADDERLEY QUINTET (RLP 12-269)
Way Out: JOHNNY GRIFFIN Quartet (RLP 12-274)
In Orbit: CLARK TERRY Quartet; featuring Thelonious Monk (RLP 12-271)
A HIGH FIDELITY Recording – Riverside-Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering
(Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve).
Produced, and notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS.
Cover designed by PAUL BACON; cover photograph: LAWRENCE SHUSTAK.
Engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios).
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.