Dave Brubeck (p), Paul Desmond (as), Eugene Wright (b) and Joe Morello (d). Rec. 1959 and 1961-64
Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond were an odd couple! Chalk and cheese: Brubeck’s frequently thunderous, bombastic pianistics being in stark contrast to Desmond’s unruffled pure toned alto sax. But it worked. Never more so than on Time Out, one of probably just half-a-dozen albums on the shelves of those who don’t admit to liking jazz.
It was an album that prompted even more controversy than Ornette Coleman’s emergence the previous year. While, perhaps, not the first group to explore compound time signatures, Time Out (a million-plus seller that also produced two jukebox hits ‘Take Five’ and ‘Blue Rondo A La Turk’) proved a major breakthrough in that it captured the public’s attention by offering up a clear blueprint of future possibilities in jazz as opposed to being misconstrued as an attention-grabbing gimmick.
Though the singles are the best-known tracks, ‘Kathy’s Waltz’ and ‘Three To Get Ready’ are their equal in terms of genuine inspiration. But then the entire original album remains unaffected by the passing of time. This three-disc set also includes almost one hour of Newport Jazz Festival location recordings (1961-1964) – check out the spirited ‘Waltz Limp’ plus a DVD which offers Brubeck’s reminiscences on the making of Time Out.
– Roy Carr
Roach (d), Booker Little (t), George Coleman (ts), Julian Priester (tb), Ray Draper (tba), Art Davis, Bob Cranshaw (b) Eddie Baker and Tommy Flanagan (p). Rec. 1958-59
As he memorably demonstrated to audiences the world over, Max Roach needed nothing more than a hi-hat and a glint in his eye to pull off feats of jaw dropping virtuosity. The trademark finale of the drummer’s gigs in which the band exited to leave him playing nothing but the upright cymbal was a sign of boundless imagination as well as immense technical skill. At countless junctures in the embarrassment of riches that is this handsome 3-CD set, capturing Roach at a late-1950s creative peak, the drummer’s stinging micro-solos on hi-hat, his remarkably funky snare work, which evokes a turbo charged marching band, and the overall ferocity of his swing give this music a kind of nuclear lift-off.
Emerging from two years of creative wilderness following the tragic death of one of his greatest creative kinsmen, the trumpeter Clifford Brown, Roach put together a new quintet unveiling the precocious talents of young horn players Booker Little and George Coleman and he frankly sounded like a man reborn. There’s such untrammeled verve and vigour in the performances, it’s easy to think that Roach was intent on making his brand of hard bop as hard as the music of any of the figures on the avant-garde horizon without toppling into atonality full on. Yet the common ground between the two schools is embodied by the use of the pianoless group that became increasingly common among the latter (though Gerry Mulligan’s band had taken that step before Ornette Coleman’s) and the reprise of pieces by AACM cofounder Muhal Richard Abrams as well as Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. Then again the presence of 18 year-old tuba player Ray Draper is something of a master stroke in that it brings the urbane character of Miles Davis’ Birth of The Cool into play but lights a fire under its gauzy tonality to create a kind of ‘rebirth of the hot.’ This essential anthology, that brings together the studio sets Max Roach + 4 , Deeds, Not Words and Max On The Chicago Scene as well as a dynamic Newport Jazz Festival set, has the kind of molten energy as well as creativity that should be a yardstick not just for improvising musicians but for any exponent of modern dance music such is the punishingly hardcore character of Roach’s treatment of the drums. If, as the British trombonist Dennis Rollins once opined, one can hear the world of hip-hop in Art Blakey, then the entire universe of drum ’n’ bass and beyond is wholly explicit in Max Roach.
– Kevin Le Gendre
Wes Montgomery (g), Tommy Flanagan (p), Percy Heath (b) and Albert “Tootie” Heath (d). Rec. January 1960
This CD, the best studio album that Wes Montgomery recorded, marked a turning point in the guitarist’s career and a new era in the development of the guitar. Wes had already recorded a string of albums, in the company of his brothers, Buddy and Monk and other musicians. While these had attracted favourable reviews, sales were modest and they had not achieved the desired lift-off for his career. For this album, producer Orrin Keepnews sought a different setting for Wes and placed him with a crack New York rhythm section. From the very first notes of Sonny Rollins’ ‘Airegin’, the chemistry clearly works. Undaunted by its choppy chord progression and a brisk tempo, the quartet romps through several choruses with effortless energy and good homour, spraying melodic and rhythmic ideas in all directions before bringing it to a triumphant conclusion. In contrast, ‘“D” Natural Blues’ is taken at a relaxed pace and is the first of four examples on this album of Wes the composer, with its simple but evocative theme. Both Flanagan and Percy Heath take fine solos. It also brings out the reflective side of Wes and his unerring ability as an improviser to extract strong, original melodic lines from much-trodden harmonies. These qualities are also to the fore in the ballad ‘Polkadots and Moonbeams’ where his warm, soulful guitar sound – he plucked the strings with his thumb instead of a pick – creates an intimate, conversational mood.
Two Wes compositions from this album have become jazz standards. ‘Four on Six’, with its ostinato bass riff, re-works the harmonies of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ and ‘West Coast Blues’ gives the 12-bar blues form a further twist by converting it into 24-bar blues, using altered chord changes and giving it a 3/4 treatment with a melody that once heard, is never forgotten. In his solo on this track and on the closer, ‘Gone With The Wind’, Wes begins his solo with straightforward melodic lines, then changes up a gear by playing passages first in unison octaves and then in block chords, innovations that assist in the strategic development of a solo but which also brought exciting new expressive resources to the guitar.
With this album, Wes Montgomery showed a new direction for the guitar in jazz and inspired George Benson, Pat Martino, Pat Metheny and the thousands of other jazz guitarists who all acknowledge a debt to this gentle genius.
– Charles Alexander