Max Roach + Four: The Complete Studio Recordings 1959 - 1960
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The superb modern jazz material in this set is hardly an example of the genre as a neglected, unheard entity. Drummer Max Roach reached a wide audience with his bandleading activities, impressing most listeners if not bowling them over entirely with the outstanding quality of his bandstand mates. Improvisers know that with Roach on the drums, anything is possible; once perceived it will happen, the chances of any glitch in tempo or rhythmic feel as remote as the establishment of a Jeffersonian democracy inside an ice cream carton. In the second half of the '50s, Roach collaborated with some of the greatest jazz musicians in the history of this genre, those featured on this CD as well as trumpeters Booker Little and Clifford Brown, and tenor saxophonists George Coleman and Harold Land.Brown's death in a terrible car accident was unfortunately what set in motion the triumvirate of Roach with tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins and trumpeter Kenny Dorham. Pianist Richie Powell had also died in the same accident, necessitating a series of replacements involving players with contrasting styles, from the earthy funk of Ray Bryant to the interstellar overdrive of Wade Legge. The Roach group with Brown may not have been as popular as Elvis Presley, yet was still enough of a phenomenon in the modern jazz scene that speculation as to what Roach was going to do in the aftermath of Brown's death added an element of drama to both initial public reaction and residual historic appreciation. This collection of studio events involving Roach, Rollins, and Dorham totals 21 tracks with a larger percentage than usual of waltzes, the reason being that producer Bob Shad came up with the idea of an entire album devoted to swinging it in three. Jazz in 3/4 Time resulted from this brainstorm in 1957, its precedent was Max Roach Plus Four in 1956. Both albums were picked over eagerly, fans happy to acknowledge that Rollins had reached some kind of new level of excitement, scattering Brown's ashes to the wind from atop a bridge as usual. Dorham was not accepted as well at first, limited by his own nervousness under pressure and possibly tempted to write his own good review since he was one of the few jazz players of the era who sidelined as a critic. More detailed listening reveals a subtlety to Dorham's playing that adds a great beauty to the material, in some ways something special compared to Brown's overwhelming technique. At any rate, this is hard bop that sounds at times like free jazz. The initial impact of the original Max Roach Plus Four side one — compared by eager critics to the bombing of Dresden, the introduction of the Japanese high speed trains, and the over-running of a jungle community by army ants — is chopped up by the reissue programming, the concept of which is obviously to strew the waltz tracks hither and yon. Considered innovative at the time of its original release, Jazz in 3/4 Time would have been better to present in its original sequence, a typical quibble with this kind of project. What is not so typical is the alternatives collectors have for acquiring this material. Mosaic, for example, combines the Dorham and Rollins collaborations with Mercury sessions from Roach's later groups, allowing the chance to compare Dorham not just to Brown but to the aforementioned Little as well, Rollins with Coleman and Land and so on. Roach's "Dr. Free-Zee" is one of several effective percussion pieces and has an added tympani track. Versions of "Body and Soul" and "Woody 'n' You" are masterful, probably more useful for jazz education than a bus full of school teachers and much less likely to cause an accident no matter how fast moving. Sometimes the group seems to be playing fast enough to meet itself back at the beginning of a tune, a concept that thankfully never occurred to Shad. Several tracks that were not released originally are of course included in this collection, introducing an impressive pianist named Billy Wallace who subsequently came into his own on the waltz project, then apparently vanished into a maze of lounges. In general Dorham is a more comfortable soul on the 1957 outing, the tempo challenge a cocktail for his precision phrasing including a particularly fine solo on the epic "Valse Hot." Roach's waltz-time drum solos are also a marvel, still it was the pianist who seemed to garner the biggest accolades for this session, a combination of his unknown status and dazzling improvisations.
Born: 10 January 1924 in New Land, NC
Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s