Give the Drummers Some

Roy Haynes and Max Roach Master Time

The first seconds are killing: Irving Berlin's "The Best Thing for You," introduced with eight two-bar exchanges between Haynes and McBride—fast, exciting, competitive, like-minded. The ingenuously merry tune, propelled by slashing cymbals, inspires Redman and Barron, who are no less involved in displacing the beats than the rhythm players. The sense of unbridled enthusiasm continues with "That Old Feeling," as Scofield starts directly with the head and the leader inserts his first soft-shoe commentary in the fourth bar. Ever aware, ever kinetic, ever plush, Haynes lifts the ensemble in tandem with Holland's pneumatic and lyrical bass. During Scofield's third solo chorus, Kikoski plays a few chords, then lays out as Haynes pushes the beat, and at the first turnback of Kikoski's solo, Haynes turns the rhythm around so forcefully you think he's about to solo himself; later he gets into a rhythm that sounds like bucking and winging. For all his aggression, however, he never intrudes. When he goes for broke throughout Scofield's run on "Afro Blue," he elicits the guitarist's best playing of the session.

"Que Pasa?" makes up in fireworks for what it lacks in the drama of Horace Silver's record, especially when Barron—brimming with provocative ideas behind Redman—takes over. The pianist is completely unleashed on "How Deep Is the Ocean," playing a middle-of-the-keyboard variation with harmonic surprises and buoyant fours with Haynes (fitting payback for the superb support Haynes gave him on Wanton Spirit). Always enlivened by exchanges, Haynes trades fours with Scofield on "Love Letters," which has a mischievously protracted ending; and Redman and Barron do eights and fours on "My Shining Hour," which also ends with a freely improvised episode. The penultimate track, "Stomping at the Savoy," is relatively easygoing, while Haynes's closing feature, "Shades of Senegal 2," the only original, pivots on a three-note mallets figure, shows off his extended dynamic range, and concludes at a whisper.

Friendship, by Roach and 82-year-old Clark Terry, recorded (in one session) when neither of them were expected to record anytime soon, is less consistent, but its peaks are in the clouds. They had played together with Monk, and in the intervening years Roach did some of his most accomplished work in duos, notably with Dizzy Gillespie and Cecil Taylor. This reunion is short and mostly sweet, its release coming on the 60th anniversary of Max's first recording date. On a quartet version of Monk's "Let's Cool One," with pianist Don Friedman and bassist Marcus McLaurine, Roach stays in the pocket, prodding the beat with an economy that recalls Catlett. But he's best on the duets, including "Brushes and Brass," a blues with Clark using a mute to get an unusually high piping sound and playing two breathless choruses (his lungs are unimpaired: One phrase is 12 bars long) while Roach shows off the different colors of percussion—a completely satisfying performance under two minutes. "Simple Waltz" is a blues in six that suggests a New Orleans funeral parade, with Roach freely supporting Terry through a beautifully timed fade—they march down the road as the last chorus comes to a close.

Roy Haynes: a state of suspended agitation
photo: Jay Muhlin
Roy Haynes: a state of suspended agitation

Terry's tone is gorgeously solvent on an "I Remember Clifford" with bass and piano, but no Roach, who in his absence inevitably becomes a subject of the tribute; Terry finishes his lovely coda with a note Bobby Hackett might have played. Terry is also in clover on a quartet reading of "But Beautiful," his timbre shining (note the foxy turnback after the bridge), with and without mute, and his phrasing utterly free of his patented licks. "The Profit," a duet, is a static blues riff with solos and fours verging on free jazz. Two ballads are unaccompanied trumpet solos—shades of Lester Bowie—as compared to one Roach solo, and on "To Basie With Love," he plays lissome flugelhorn responses with one hand to the muted trumpet in the other. A couple of the later tracks reveal weariness—familiar licks crop up on "For Dancers Only" and, except for Friedman, "Makin' Whoopee" is lackluster, with Roach overindulging a tympani effect on tuned drums, though the rendition is notable for avoiding the usual whimsy. Terry winds it up with "The Nearness of You" and a battle-cry cadenza.

Friendship is an unexpected addition to two brilliant careers. Love Letters ought to be the first in a series—jazz players playing jazz for jazz lovers.

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