Conversation: MAX ROACH, Quinte
Max 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)
Deeds Not Words (4:32) (Bill Lee)
Larry-Larue (5:11) (Booker Little)
Conversation (3:47) (Max Roach)
Certainly one true sign of greatness in any artist is an inability ever to stand still, to rest on accumulated honors and stop creating. MAX ROACH has accomplished much in jazz – Deeds, Not Words is not only a song title here, but also a phrase that could also be applied to his career as a whole – and one of the strongest indications of his status as a major jazz figure is that he has that inability to stop. Equally important, however, is the fact that what he has done manages to retain its validity and importance even after he has moved on to some other phase of activity. So, while there is really no telling what areas of creativity will eventually be covered by Roach, these recordings from his late-1950s period of rich experimentation with pianoless small-group jazz remain rewarding and exciting landmarks on his many-faceted path.
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 among the most widely influential of modern drummers. Critic Don Gold has accurately described Roach as “a member of that elite … handful of jazzmen whose prominence is unquestioned by all factions,” noting that his “career … reads like a history of modern jazz.”
Very probably the vast and early-acquired experience that gave him so impressive a set of jazz credentials almost from the start of his career has also been responsible for the impressive track records run up by Roach’s various small bands. Far too many such units tend to be 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 reputations while with Roach: Brown, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Dorham. The group heard here, which he led through 1958 and into’59, was strikingly young. Trumpeter Booker Little, whose vast promise had only begun to be realized when he died in 1961, was barely 20 at this time; Ray Draper, on tuba, was three years younger; the othes were not much older. All combined considerable natural talent (Art Davis, the firm-toned bassist, has gone on to play with such as Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane; tenorman George Coleman has been featured with Slide Hampton and others) with a youthful enthusiasm and willingness to be guided and shaped by the leader. It was of this band that Roach said: “I never knew a group that wanted to rehearse so much.”
The idea of a pianoless group of course dates back to 1952, when Gerry Mulligan first dared, and Max himself had pared down to a no-piano quartet with his previous personnel. (It was perhaps an inevitable step for Roach, who 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 rhythm time-keeping, things could get pretty busy around a Roach group with ‘normal’ rhythm instrumentation!)
At the core of most pianoless groups you will find some horn player’s complaint about piano chords interfering with his solo work. But Roach, who would appear to have been the first to approach the deletion of piano from a drummer’s viewpoint, had something much more constructive in mind. He 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, 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. It can eve go beyond that: in Draper’s own composition, 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 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. But this does not mean that there is any lack of spontaneity. You Stepped Out of a Dream, one of the most complex-sounding and most effective numbes here, stems fro a ‘head’ arrangement mutually worked out in the playing. And there is 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. And “Conversation” turns out to be more than just a tune title. It is also an apt overall description of what is taking place here: Max Roach, the master, in a series of relaxed conversations with four skilled disciples on a series of most interesting jazz subjects.
Roach is only one of many top jazznames (and highly regarded younger stars)
who can be heard on Jazzland. Some of the label’s many album of unusual interest include :
SONNY ROLLINS: Sonny’s Time (JLP 72; Stereo 972)
THELONIOUS MONK with John Coltrane (JLP 46; Stereo 946)
GEORGE SHEARIN and The Montgomery Brothers (JLP 55; Stereo 955)
NAT ADDERLEY: In the Bag – With Cannonball Adderley (JLP 75; Stereo 975)
SONNY STITT: Low Flame (JLP 71; Stereo 971)
RED GARLAND: Solar (JLP 73; Stereo 973)
JOHNNY GRIFFIN and EDDIE “LOCKJAW” DAVIS: Tough Tenors Favorites (JLP 76; Stereo 976)
JUNIOR MACE Orchestra: The Soul of Hollywood (JLP 63; Stereo 963)
FATS NAVARRO with the TADD DAMERON Quintet (JLP 50)
HAROLD LAND: West Coast Blues – with Wes Montgomery (JLP 20; stereo 920)
JOHNNY LYTLE Trio: Happy Ground (JLP 44; Stereo 944)
PRODUCED BY ORRINKEEPNEWS
RECORDING ENGINEER: JACK HIGGINS (REEVES SOUND STUDIOS; New York City)
ALBUMDESIGN: KEN DEARDOFF
THIS RECORDING IS AVAILABLE IN BOTH STEREOPHONIC (JLP 979) AND MONAURAL (JLP 79) FORM.
JAZZLAND RECORDS ARE PRODUCED BY BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, INC.
235 WEST 46TH STREET NEW YORK CITY 36, NEW YORK