Max Roach: Garvey's Ghost


Garvey’s Ghost


Max Roach (drums)


Percussion Bitter Sweet (Universal Music Special Markets, B0012607-01)

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Max Roach (drums), Clifford Jordan (tenor sax), Booker Little (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (alto sax, flute), Abbey Lincoln (vocals), Julian Priester (trombone), Mal Waldron (piano), Art Davis (bass),

Carlos Valdez (congas); Carlos Eugenio (cowbell)


Max Roach (composer)


Recorded: New York, August 1, 1961


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This is one of my favorite cuts of music of all time. It’s another example of how the title really speaks to what’s happening in the music. This references Marcus Garvey, the great Pan-Africanist in the States during the late '10s and ‘20s, ‘who died in England in 1940, mistreated, and his organization decentralized by the same tactics used against the Black Panthers some years later. The piece references that history, talking about self-determination, but then it also has a haunting, ghostly quality—the melody is so powerful, as is the fact that Abbey doesn’t sing any words.

Max wrote the song. The solos by Booker Little and Clifford Jordan are straight fire! Then again, we see that juxtaposition of rhythms against each other, because he has Patato playing the congas and Carlos Eugenio playing the cowbell—Max is kind of playing in 6 but also in 3, in the way he’s swinging, and keeps that pattern almost all throughout the piece. But the way he comps, pushes Booker Little and Clifford Jordan through their solos---he sustains that ride cymbal pattern the whole time, along with the other percussion---is reminiscent of one of his solos. But everybody has a certain freedom within what they’re doing. Even the cowbell's cascara pattern is not fixed. Max’s ride cymbal pattern is, but the other shit he’s playing completely is not. It’s not like any traditional comping. It’s like collective improvisation. Then he solos over that cascara and the congas, and, as he often does, he utilizes a lot of space. He always plays something and then leaves some space, and then plays something else and leaves some space. He calls, he answers, he answers, and then he leaves some space. He always used to say that there’s always room. “Get to your shit quick, make a statement, and in making that statement, the things that you don’t play are just as important as the things you do.” That always seemed to be a theme for him, and he utilized it in every component of his career. Always some space for others.

That’s the way it seems he led his life in aligning himself with different people, like the record with Hassan Ibn Ali, where he gave him the opportunity to present his original music and placed "the legendary Hassan" on the title. That was Hassan's only recording except for one by Odean Pope that I don’t think was ever released. Or the fact that he aligned himself with Clifford Brown and said, “Let’s lead the band together.” I don’t know if he really had to do that. Also the different duo situations. Always on the cusp, but then also, in a sense, very selfless. To be as prolific as was he had to have a strong sense of self---as I know he did, because I was around him. That strong sense of self allowed him to let other people shine as well. It was never, “No, it has to be me, and you can’t do your thing.” It was “come on and do your thing.” This is a perfect example. It’s not like he has to growl over the whole thing. He leaves some space, and then he’ll talk to one of the cats, and communicate. Everybody’s listening. This is a year after We Insist, and Max was still on the same path. There’s tunes like “Man From South Africa,” in 7/4. He’s still making that commentary. He’s still on the soapbox, because it’s important and it’s still current, still developing in America.

In 1990 or 1991, I remember doing a Sacred Drums tour with Max here in America, one of my very first gigs out of town. Tito Puente was on it, and some of these Native American drummers, some koto, things like that. Max was playing with Mario Bauzá, who had a small orchestra. He was doing multiple things as well as solo stuff, playing with the small band, and this was one of the other portions of the show. Patato was in the band, too. During one of the rehearsals the piano player came up with some arrangements for Max to read, and he called over to me—I was there as a stagehand, his P.A., setting up the cymbals and stuff like that. He was just trying to put some money in my pocket and help me out. Max said, “come here, man. Play this.” So he got me down to play the show, and got me my first traveling gig—with Mario Bauzá! I had no idea then who he was. I didn’t know what I was doing with clave and so on. I remember Patato looking at me like, “You don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.” The other cats in the band were very encouraging, but Patato didn’t want to give it up. Which I understood, though, because I didn’t know what I was doing. Some years later, I did a recording with him and Michael Marcus and Rahn Burton, and he was cool—maybe I had gotten a few things together. He tuned my snare drum, tightened it in a certain way, and that snare drum still sounds great to this day. He showed me how to tune the bottom a little tighter than the top. He had that pitch. That snare drum was singing for years.

Reviewer: Nasheet Waits


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