Max Roach - drums; Jimmy Bridges - guitar; Ron Bridgewater - tenor sax; Cecil Bridgewater - trumpet; Vishnu Wood - bass; Bishop J.C. White - vocals; Dorothy White - vocals; Ruby McClure - vocals
The great bebop drummer returns to his church roots in this stirring collaboration with the J.C. White Singers. Accompanied by guitarist Jimmy Bridges, bassist Vishnu Wood, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater and tenor saxophonist Ron Bridgewater, Roach and his crew make a joyful noise in this Carnegie Hall concert, performing material from their recent Atlantic album, Lift Every Voice and Sing.
Opening on a propulsive note with a turbulent, swinging instrumental, the Bridgewater brothers stretch to ecstatic, Coltrane-inspired heights alongside Roach's propulsive drumming and Wood's deep-toned steady walking bass. Guitarist Bridges also turns in an impressive solo that shows flashes of Wes Montgomery while striding into the avant-garde. And Roach's extended drum solo on this opener is a veritable master class in melodic playing on the kit.
After bringing on the J.C. White Singers, they proceed to explore old-time spirituals with a depth of passion and artistry that is stunning. Ruby McClure's profoundly emotive vocals are accompanied by Wood's Arco bass work and underscored by Roach's sensitive drumming on a stirring rendition of "Motherless Child." At some point, the vocal choir and Ron Bridgewater's wailing tenor sax enter to take this heightened piece to another plateau. "Joshua" is another bracing fusion of spirituals with modal, Trane-inspired tenor work by Bridgewater. Guitarist Bridges is next featured on a slow, soulful blues rendition of "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord," which has him deftly winding his avant-garde vocabulary into this old school form. Bishop J.C. White delivers some inspired gospel-holler vocals on this bluesy meditation before the band segues to a swinging, up-tempo rendition of "Let Thy People Go," paced by Roach's stellar drumming and highlighted by Bridgewater's bold trumpet attack. They close out this Carnegie Hall gala with "Troubled Waters," Roach's arrangement of "Wade in the Water" which opens with a virtuosic drum solo before the voices join in on that age-old spiritual, with Dorothy White taking the lead. Roach's explosive eruptions on the kit throughout this mournful, emotionally-charged piece are a highlight of the show.
One of the architects of bebop (along with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and fellow drummer Kenny Clarke), Roach was born on January 10, 1924 in Newland, North Carolina and began playing drums in a gospel band at age 10. After studying at the Manhattan School of Music, he became the house drummer at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, where he interacted with various cutting edge players of the day, including Parker, Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. He had brief stints with Benny Carter and Duke Ellington before joining Dizzy Gillespie's quintet in 1943 and made his recording debut that year with Coleman Hawkins. By 1945, he was playing in Charlie Parker's band. Roach's revolutionary approach to the kit, which shifted the rhythmic focus from the bass drum to the ride cymbal, freed up drummers and fueled the early bebop movement. He later recorded with trumpet greats Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham and also participated in the historic Birth of the Cool sessions in 1948. He toured with the Jazz at the Philharmonic revue during the early 1950s before forming his groundbreaking hard bop quintet with Clifford Brown in mid 1954.
Roach followed up the politically-charged Freedom Now Suite with another classic in 1961's Percussion Bitter Sweet, which featured such stellar sidemen as trumpeter Booker Little, alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy, trombonist Julian Priester, tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, pianist Mal Waldron, bassist Art Davis and singer Abbey Lincoln, who contributed emotionally stirring vocals on "Mendacity." Roach's 1965 classic Drums Unlimited included three unaccompanied drumming showcases in "For Big Sid," "The Drum Also Waltzes" and the dramatic title track. In 1970, he formed the percussion ensemble M'Boom and during the '70s recorded riveting duets with multi-reed phenom Anthony Braxton as well as avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor. He continued to perform through the '80s with M'Boom, his regular quartet and his Double Quartet (the regular quartet augmented by the Uptown String Quartet, which included his daughter Maxine Roach on viola).
Roach remained tirelessly adventurous in his later years, performing with orchestras, dance companies, Japanese folkloric musicians and even rappers and break dancers. His last recording, 2002's Friendship, was with his longtime friend, trumpet master Clark Terry. Roach died on August 15, 2007 after a long illness. (Milkowski)