Max Roach - drums; Lonnie Smith - piano; Clifford Jordan - tenor sax; Eddie Kahn - bass; Guest: Abbey Lincoln - vocals
In 1960, during the burgeoning civil rights movement—a time of frequent student sit-ins in Atlanta, Richmond, Nashville, and Greensboro—drummer Max Roach released his urgent, politically-charged manifesto We Insist!: Freedom Now Suite on the Candid label. Four years later, for his appearance at the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival, Roach revived this crusading work that features his activist wife, singer Abbey Lincoln (to whom he was married from 1962 to 1970), along with the powerful tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, bassist Eddie Kahn, and pianist Lonnie Liston Smith.
They open their stimulating July 4th set at Newport with the philosophical blues "Long As You're Living," an appealing tune by Stanley Turrentine and Julian Priester with lyricist Oscar Brown, Jr. which originally appeared on Lincoln's 1959 Riverside album, Abbey is Blue. Saxophonist Jordan blows with unrestrained gusto over this mid-tempo groove before pianist Smith enters with some accomplished two-fisted playing on an extended solo of his own. Roach then erupts with a riveting, unaccompanied showcase on the kit, quoting from his famous "The Drum Also Waltzes" solo along the way. While "Long As You're Living" was not part the original Freedom Now Suite, it serves as an effective springboard into the dramatic five-part protest piece.
The dour work song "Driva' Man" opens with Lincoln singing a stark, acappella intro before bassist Kahn enters with steady walking deep-toned quarter notes. Jordan follows with an impassioned solo on tenor, then Lincoln returns to tell the harsh tale of an oppressed black man. The buoyant "Tears for Johannesburg" begins with Lincoln's soaring vocals wafting over a 5/4 groove created by interlocking tandem of Kahn and Roach. Smith's mesmerizing piano solo here is angular and harmonically searching within the rhythmic fabric of the piece. Kahn offers an extended bass solo against Roach's slick 5/4 variation on Papa Jo Jones' signature hi-hat groove while Jordan adds to the proceedings with an intriguing tenor solo that floats in half-time over the surging pulse.
"Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace," the centerpiece of the set, is introduced by Roach's stark statements around the kit with Lincoln's eerily operatic wordless vocals swooping in and out of the mix (the "Prayer" section). From there, they head into the turbulent "Protest" section, marked by Lincoln's angry, screeching vocals against Roach's bombastic, whirlwind eruptions around the kit. The third section of this dramatic drums-voice duet, "Peace," is a calmer 6/8 groove with Lincoln alternately sighing and floating ethereally above the drums. Saxophonist Jordan returns for "All Africa," which has Lincoln shouting out the names of various tribes from the Dark Continent over a compelling 12/8 groove. The piece segues to an aggressive romp for Jordan to blow over with scorching intensity as Roach fuels the hard bop groove with his signature insistent ride cymbal work and loosely interactive touch on his snare drum. Following another eccentric piano solo by Smith, Roach returns to his galvanizing "The Drum Also Waltzes" solo, flashing peerless chops around the kit. For their brief but blazing finale, Lincoln delivers "Freedom Day" with an exalted kind of intensity, spurred on by the heightened energy generated on the Newport stage by Max and his stellar sidemen. A hallmark in Roach's long and illustrious career, We Insist!: Freedom Now Suite stands as an important addition to this country's long tradition of protest.
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. He 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 a lot of 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. He made his recording debut that year with Coleman Hawkins, and by 1945 was playing in Charlie Parker's band. His 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. Roach later recorded with Miles Davis, 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 turned in emotional vocals on a stirring "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 and 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. Roach's 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)