Melody Lingers On

Mastering Dylan, flubbing Darin, and paying tribute to the inimitable Max Roach

The good stuff includes rousing, semi-Dixieland jams on "Mack" and "Some of These Days." Trumpeter Avishai Cohen is in good form throughout (especially glancing off Scott Robinson's rugged baritone on a Mulligan-and-Chet-Baker-like "The More I See You"), and so are his sister Anat and her fellow saxophonist Joel Frahm. But where's Bobby? Were it not for the title, you might guess this to be a latter-day swing session on Arbors Jazz.

Speaking of which, the Harry Allen–Joe Cohn Quartet's Music from "Guys and Dolls" is the jewel of that label's catalog. "Fugue for Tinhorns" permits the tenorist and guitarist to exercise their flair for improvised counterpoint (their quartet's trademark), but the real stars are the singers. Eddie Erickson's suave "Adelaide" is a match for Sinatra's or composer Frank Loesser's, and the infallible Rebecca Kilgore assists in swinging the dickens out of "Marry the Man Today" (still a march, but phrasing it behind the beat makes all the difference). Like many on Arbors' roster, Allen is one younger musician with a genuine feel for bygone songs and styles, and on "I'll Know," when he underscores the vulnerability of Loesser's melody by letting us hear the air shivering from his mouthpiece (the way Stan Getz used to do), it's enough to make you wonder if the old songs aren't still best after all.

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Details

Jewels and Binoculars
Ships with Tattooed Sails
Upshot

Waverly Seven
Yo! Bobby
Anzic

Harry Allen–Joe Cohn Quartet
Music from "Guys and Dolls"
Arbors Jazz

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"I wanted to concentrate on performance again before the sticks got too heavy for me to lift," Max Roach told me in 1987, explaining why he'd taken a leave of absence from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to go on the road with his Double Quartet. The notion seemed absurd: Roach was in his early sixties then, but he still sounded and looked indestructible.

But the physical signs of aging began setting in just a few years later. When Roach died August 16, following a long stretch in a nursing home, he was our last remaining link to Minton's and the Royal Roost. Hearing him chase Charlie Parker through their 1945 recording of "Koko" should be all the evidence anyone needs that bop's main thrust was rhythmic as well as harmonic. Nurturing both Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins, his bands of the 1950s were central to the development of hard bop, an offshoot that proposed even greater equality for rhythm sections. He was the first name musician to lay everything on the line in support of civil rights and black power: We Insist (1960) was the period's most forthright jazz polemic. In 1973, when he started bringing tuned percussion together with skins, membranes, and metals of indeterminate pitch in the percussion ensemble M'Boom, the result sounded like a logical outgrowth of his own drum solos, which had always been orchestral in shading and design.

Never content to trade on his laurels as a bebop elder statesman, Roach also collaborated with playwright Sam Shepard, with rappers and breakdancers, and with such avant-garde untouchables as Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton. Interviewing drummers, I used to buddy up by asking them what made them and their brethren such good bandleaders. None ever demurred. If I recall, Roach said something about their being de facto conductors. But given all he'd accomplished and everything he stood for, the question hardly needed asking in his case.

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