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By Chris Chafin
At 78, Roy Haynes is only a year younger than Max Roach, but jazz history pigeonholes them as first- and second-generation bebop drummers. Each was a wunderkind who initially made his reputation with swing titansRoach with Benny Carter, Haynes with Lester Young. But Roach was the first to assimilate Charlie Parker's radical redesign"Ko Ko" was as much a coming out for him as for Parker and bop itselfand by 1949, when he asked Haynes to replace him in Parker's quintet, a chair Haynes held until 1952, Roach's influence was pervasive and absolute, as Haynes readily acknowledges. Roach had changed everything. It took nothing away from Sid Catlett's rolling authority or Buddy Rich's heart-stopping stickwork or Jo Jones's majestic hi-hat tattoos to realize that they were all inadequate to a music that demanded the drummer's increased collaboration in shaping themes and propelling soloists. Stylish timekeeping was now supplemented by simultaneous rhythms (and the independent limbs that made them possible), which redefined and deconstructed time while keeping it steady and resolute.
Roach wasn't aloneKenny Clarke had worked out many of the same ideas, and there were othersbut he was the most ingenious, resourceful, venturesome drummer of his generation. Even drummers who didn't want to play bop envied his reflexes, panache, freedom, and adamant musicality. As Burt Korall points out in the illuminating Drummin' Men: The Heartbeat of Jazz: The Bebop Years, even Buddy Rich, who knew he could paradiddle Roach or anyone else into oblivion, was obliged to consider the limits of supersonic paradiddling. Korall justly observes that Rich "ran Roach out of the recording studio" when they recorded together in 1959, but an earlier unspoken contest tells a different story: the records each man made with Parker, where Roach is exalted and Rich frequently at sea.
Haynes was never at sea during a singular career that ranges from Louis Armstrong to Pat Metheny and includes prominent alliances with Young, Parker, Bud Powell, Lennie Tristano, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Thelonious Monk, Jackie McLean, Chick Corea, and David Murray, among many, many others. One reason traditionalists and avant-gardists as well as modernists like working with him is that, as Korall writes, musicians "find it difficult to coast" when Haynes is monitoring every bar with the "broken rhythms, provocative syncopation, and improvisatory, Haynes-tailored techniques that no one ever has been able to duplicate." One reason Haynes was often relegated to Roach's shadow is that he put off becoming a leader. In the mid '50s, when Roach found Clifford Brown and created one of the great bands of the day, Haynes was exhibiting an unequaled meld of restraint and aggression as Vaughan's drummer. As the ideal accompanist, he received less attention than his peers or even the most prominent of the musicians he decisively influenced, including Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and Jack DeJohnette. Yet not even Roach could match him for pure spontaneity.
Haynes's brash watchfulness keeps his music in a state of suspended agitationhe makes listeners and musicians feel secure and wary at the same time. He commands the drums and the rhythm like a general looking over a field, apparently willing to try anything and confident he has the discipline to make it work. Haynes has never lacked confidence or felt obliged to direct his virtuosity toward the obvious fulfillments of speed and flash. As a soloist, he lets his music breathe, storing ideas during rests and following through with great exhalations of ingenuity. In his taste and control, he recalls Roach, but his playing has more immediacy and wit. On some level, Roach is a fundamentally more serious player; his solos sometimes exude a calculated gravity, as if he has a point to make and is intent on seeing it through. Haynes more often indicates a playful impulsiveness, a carefree emotionalism. (Yes, there are exceptions both ways.) Roach is known for drum solos written in homage to Catlett and Jones that never wear out their welcome; it's hard to imagine Haynes playing the same solo twice.
All of which is intended as prelude to two stunning new CDs, recorded last year for a subsidiary of Sony Music Japan called Eighty-Eight's, and now released here by Columbia. The happy few who remember the mid '70s as a golden moment in jazz history may remember the stylish Japanese label East Wind, which teamed Hank Jones with Ron Carter, and Tony Williams and Art Farmer with Cedar Walton; its founder, Yasohachi Itoh, is behind the new venture, which has released four discs heavy on drumming. Eddie Henderson's So What is burdened by its Miles concept, though Billy Hart and Victor Lewis rise above it. Ravi Coltrane's Mad 6 is more rewarding, and impressively launches drummer Steve Hass. The Haynes and Roach discs, however, are must-haves, each borderline miraculous.
Only Haynes could have made Love Letters, involving two all-star units of younger playersKenny Barron alone was born within two decades of him. It isn't the talent pool that makes the disc (recorded in two days) momentous, but the relieved joy that informs the playing, the absence of bandleader fretting and record-making indecision. In responding to Haynes's nonstop challenges, the participants cavort with the heedless joy and friendly one-upmanship that brought them to jazz in the first place. If you were bewildered by the recent Christian McBride, bored by the recent Joshua Redman, exasperated by the recent John Scofield, you get to hear them make their bones all over again, in company with Dave Holland and David Kikoski. Relieved of the responsibility of devising a concept or a selling point or a novelty, they go with the flow, which with Haynes paddling must have felt more like white-water rafting.