In Mosaic Records' quest for some of the significant but overlooked early recordings of jazz legends, the label has assiduously studied, gathered and documented an important and prolific recording phase of Max Roach's career.
More than a decade after his first recorded appearance with Coleman Hawkins and his subsequent astounding premiere with Charlie Parker that set the jazz world on its ear, Roach was recovering from a monumental setback to his plans to record his own quintet. The deaths of Clifford Brown and Richie Powell in June, 1956 in the one of the most famous car crashes in jazz history affected Roach's plans deeply but not insurmountingly. Slowly, Roach pieced together his quintet again with Sonny Rollins, George Morrow and newcomer Donald Byrd joined him. Byrd's work with the group appears only on a 1956 Sonny Rollins recording, instead of on one of Roach's. The first trumpeter to appear on a Max Roach + Four EmArcy recording was Kenny Dorham.
The detailed booklet accompanying the set of seven CD's is sprinkled with nuggets of previously unrealized facts about Roach's groups. For one, Roach quickly replaced Powell with the relatively unknown pianist Wade Legge, who had worked with Roach in Dizzy Gillespie's and Charles Mingus' groups. Legge's work appears solely on a 1956 Sonny Rollins Prestige date (Rollins' work mirroring what Roach's quintet produced). Legge's appearance was mistaken for Ray Bryant's until Bryant cleared up the confusion during an interview for the production of the reissue. The booklet contains a fascinating account of how Roach and Harold Land recruited a young Sonny Rollins at the Chicago YMCA, which also housed a 17-year-old Booker Little. Little came upstairs to meet his idol Clifford Brown at the time, none of them knowing that Little would in a two years follow in Brownie's footsteps in the group. And well-positioned, contrasting interviews at the end of the booklet present Bob Boswell's and Julian Priester's assertions that a Detroit performance of Roach's quintet inspired the Dave Brubeck Quartet to venture into unconventional time signatures. Brubeck counters, "Max was developing the concept of polyrhythms early in his career, as was I. My experiments in odd time signatures go back to the Dave Brubeck Octet in the late '40's." Touché.
Always restless and always shaping his music according to his personality, Roach wanted to continue realizing his vision through the recorded work of his quintet. Thus, the deaths of Brown and Powell stalled his work, but couldn't prevent it, so strong was Roach's will. The resulting restart of his recording activity with Max Roach + 4 declared that his group would continue to extend the bop vocabulary with new ideas and reinvigoration. Rollins in particular seemed to have arrived as a complete package, his legendary extended solos and off-kilter improvisations of standards already in place.
Eventually, Rollins moved on, and succession of first-rate tenors joined forces with Roach, including George Coleman, Stanley Turrentine and Hank Mobley. The swan song for the EmArcy label, managed by Bob Shad from its inception, was Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker. As a commercial reference to Roach's early rise in public consciousness, the album also was notable for its reliance on the strength of the hornmen, who played the outlines of Bird's best-known tunes without the support of a pianist. This wasn't the first or last time that Roach abandoned piano, hiring several other pianists besides Bryant over the years but never really sticking with one. But the 23-year-old Coleman, who joined Roach from the MJT+3 in Chicago, evinces the youthful maturity that all of Roach's associates possessed and possess to this day, including his work with M'Boom percussionists like Stefon Harris. On "Ko-Ko," Coleman adds bite to his pure improvisation over the theme of "Cherokee," unintimidated by Bird's groundbreaking work with Roach. Constrained by the 45-RPM format of the 1940's, Roach was able to take spurts of solos with Bird. However, he makes up for that lack by pursuing a long, energetic solo on "Ko-Ko." On "Parker's Mood," the group goes for the blues basis for the tune as bassist Nelson Boyd creates the mood for the piece before Kenny Dorham breaks out into a trumpeted cry.
Chicago continued to be an important city in the evoluation of Roach's quintet, as he picked up pianist Eddie Baker and bassist Bob Cranshaw there in 1958 and in fact recorded Max Roach + 4 On The Chicago Scene at Universal Recording there. Neither of the Chicago-based musicians joined Roach's group, though. Instead, the next recording, Max Roach + 4 At Newport, features some of his most unusual instrumentation for his quintet because it included Ray Draper on tuba. In addition, bassist Art Davis made his recording debut live at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival where the famous film Jazz On A Summer's Day was produced. (Don't look. Roach's group doesn't appear in the film.) From that point on, Roach stayed with three horns minus the piano, even though he dropped the tuba phenom Draper. Instead, trombonist Julian Priester joined Little and Coleman on The Many Sides Of Max.
Another unusual, yet legendary, recording occurred when Roach's group met Buddy Rich's quintet in Pittsburgh for a joint appearance. That was the germination of the idea to record both groups when they returned to New York, and Rich acceded to Roach's insistence that the incomparable Gigi Gryce prepare the arrangements for Rich Versus Roach. Rather than an adversarial relationship, we find a complementary and not-to-be-missed pairing of jazz' leading drummers of quite different styles. More than that, we hear the meshing of two groups' energies to advance Gryce's arrangements in incomparable style. Not only do we get to compare Roach and Rich, but also we can contrast Julian Priester "versus" Willie Dennis or Stanley Turrentine's tenor sax "versus" Phil Woods' alto.
On Moon-Faced And Starry-Eyed, future wife Abbey Lincoln breaks out of her nightclub singer mold to sing two versions each of "I Concentrate On You" and "Never Leave Me." Thus, the career of a jazz singer is launched as Roach's group once again records in Chicago, this time excluding drum solos and concentrating on ballads. Parisian Sketches continues Roach's tradition of investigating new forms as he recorded with the Turrentine brothers, Julian Priester and Bob Boswell at Barclay Studios in Paris. Already immersed in 5/4 and 7/4 meters, this version of Max Roach + 4 performs the time signatures effortlessly, incorporating them into the fabric of the tunes. Just as importantly, Roach by this time was starting his thematic compositionsthat is, the five-part "Parisian Sketches"that would lead to his famous Freedom Now Suite on Columbia of the same year (1960). Perhaps Roach's restlessness and his venturing into political statements led to the end of his relationship with Mercury, which chose to play it safe but which missed the cultural revolution that was to come. (And it may not be coincidental that Columbia thrived as Mercury declined, leading to its acquisition by Polydor in the early 1970's.)
Nevertheless, we are fortunate that Mercury recorded Roach's quintets throughout his important transitional period in the 1950's as he recovered from the tragic breakup of one of the most promising groups in jazz to resume his important musical and cultural growth that followed.
All recordings are avavilable solely through Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT 06902. 203-327-7111. Check their website at http://www.mosaicrecords.com for more information or to place an order.
Track Listing: Mr. X, Body And Soul, Just One Of Those Things, Ezz-thetic, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, Woody 'N' You, Dr. Free-Zee, I'll Take Romance, It Don't Mean A Thing, Blues Waltz, Love Letters; Little Folks, Minor Trouble, Valse Hot, Lover, Raoul, This Time The Dream's On Me, Tune Up, Confirmation, Au Privave, Anthropology, Yardbird Suite; Billie's Bounce, Ko-Ko, Parker's Mood, Shirley, My Old Flame, Sporty, Stella By Starlight, Stompin' At The Savoy, Memo To Maurice; La Villa, A Night In Tunisia, Deeds Not Words, Minor Mode, Tune Up, Love For Sale, Prelude, Lepa, Connie's Bounce, A Little Sweet, Tympanalli, Bemsha Swing, There's No You; Sing Sing Sing, The Casbah, Sleep, Figure Eights, Yesterdays, Big Foot, Limehouse Blues, Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye, You're Mine You, Come Rain Or Come Shine, Wild Is The Wind, Speak Low, I Concentrate On You, Moon-Faced And Starry-Eyed, Never Let Me Go, Namely You, Never Leave Me, You're My Thrill; Quiet As It's Kept, To Lady, Lotus Blossom, As Long As You're Living, The More I See You, Juliano, Parisian Sketches, Nica, Petit Dejeuner, Un Nouveau Complet, Liberte
Personnel: Max Roach, drums, tympani; Kenny Dorham, Booker Little, Tommy Turrentine, trumpet; Sonny Rollins, George Coleman, Hank Mobley, Stanley Turrentine, tenor sax; Phil Woods, alto sax; Julian Priester, Willie Dennis, trombone; Ray Draper, tuba; Ray Bryant, Billy Wallace, Eddie Baker, John Bunch, piano; George Morrow, Nelson, Boyd, Bob Cranshaw, Art Davis, Bob Boswell, Phil Leshin, bass; Buddy Rich, drums; Abbey Lincoln, vocals; Gigi Gryce, conductor, arranger