August 10, 2015

Max Roach - Percussion Bitter Sweet (1961)


A good lineup is not just a bunch of big names thrown together, it's all about how it gels. The jazz world of 1961 was dominated by the various combinations of Eric Dolphy, Booker Little, Max Roach, and Mal Waldron. Of course Eric Dolphy is Eric Dolphy, but Booker Little is one the most skilled and visionary trumpet players to ever play; on the level of Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, and Miles Davis. Most impressively, he's one of the only trumpet players to be able to bounce back and forth with Dolphy; perhaps better in some ways than Freddie Hubbard on Out To Lunch. The two dominant players on the front-line are flanked by Clifford Jordan, a cool player that proves he can masterfully craft melodies on here and on his previous Blue Note appearances. Julian Priester is not on Grachan Moncur III's level in terms of being a revolutionary trombonist, but he did come first and is a good choice to give the album a weird take on the older big band feel; I feel like playing around with this stuff early on helped him develop into one of the only successful trombonists in the fusion era.

Little and Dolphy's pianist of choice is here as well. Mal Waldron wasn't choppy and super "out there" like Thelonious Monk or Cecil Taylor, but sounds more like a proto-Herbie Hancock or Andrew Hill; nothing in the jazz game at this time sounded like him. His rhythm is inventive and he feels out the edgy lead of Dolphy and Roach like the pro he is. The leader himself, Max Roach, is at the top of his game. This album and the Freedom Now Suite are considered his crowning achievements--when his involvement in expressing the civil rights movement was probably at its most fruitful. He's got one of the most methodological approaches to playing drums; his originality and uniqueness is on the level of Tony Williams. His particular style happens to bring a lot of originality to his use of these percussionists as well. His compositions and playing with Potato Valdez and Totico are refreshing when they are usually heard on the same-old, same-old afro-latin eruption techniques of Art Blakey.

Being Max Roach in the 60s, there's going to be some level of political inspiration embedded in the music--probably discussed somewhere in my liner notes, but I'm too lazy to reach for them now. Abbey Lincoln makes a couple of brief appearances on here, but it's far from shrieking the 60s black plight on Freedom Now, so don't expect this to be filled to the brim with that stuff. This is one of the coolest, most short-lived bands in jazz history. The music is expressive, original, and holds your attention. This is good jazz music for people that might not even be that into jazz music. And as a final note I'd like to add that if you like this, I'd recommend Out Front by Booker Little.

Sample

Percussion Bitter Sweet [I'll try to upload my own CD rip later if I can remember]