Max Roach: Variation on a Familiar Theme
Variations On A Familiar Theme
Max Roach with the Boston Percussion Ensemble
Alone Together: The Best Of The Mercury Years (EmArcy MG 36144)
Max Roach (drums),
Al Portch (french horn); Irving Farberman, Everette Firth, Lloyd McCausland, Arthur Press, Charles Smith, Harold Thompson, Walter Tokarczyk (percussion); Corinne Curry (soprano voice) Harold Faberman (conductor, director).
Harold Faberman (arranger).
Recorded: recorded in Music Barn of the Music Inn, Lenox, Mass. on Aug. 17, 1958.
Rating: 100/100 (learn more)
This is an amazing piece—another example of seamless transitions. It runs 2-minutes-20-seconds, and it’s a variation of “Pop Goes The Weasel.” Theoretically, the configuration is like a predecessor to M’Boom. I don’t know if that idea had anything to do with Max’s decision to pull these musicians together, but this was something completely different. He was just guest soloist with the Boston Percussion Ensemble. Harold Faberman did the arrangement.
Here Max is playing within the conventions of orchestral percussion, but from the first time you hear him on the brushes it’s unmistakably him—the same phrasing, the same sound out of the instrument. Regardless of the setting, the language was so indigenous to his person, you know it’s Max regardless of the setting. There are several sections. Max initiates some time with the brushes, then they come in with a theme, then they switch up from 4/4 to 3/4, and he makes that transition, too. A different theme is initiated, and then they transition back into four. This often happens in Western Classical music, but here it’s an interesting juxtaposition of time signatures and also of genre. It’s the “jazz feeling” or whatever, because Max is playing some time countered against what the orchestra is doing with the structure. He kind of solos in the piece, but he’s also weaving in and out of it, and he is used to accentuate certain portions. It amazes me that Max was so open and flexible and willing to put himself into so many different positions throughout his career.
I have a degree in music, but the way I learned the music was kind of on the street, watching my Pops play and so forth. I’ve never studied Western classical pedagogy. Now, Max went to Manhattan School of Music and studied it, but here it sounds like he’s using the techniques that he mastered from his experiences, not from the Western pedagogy. Within the framework of this piece, the music has a certain time feel. When I played with an orchestra, it was always challenging from the downbeat, because when I see the conductor come down, I’m thinking that’s the downbeat, but it’s not. Then it’s weird. It’s the downbeat-AND, and everyone’s responding to that. Visually, it was so challenging to de-condition yourself—in jazz, it’s always the downbeat, so everyone enters there, whereas in the orchestra the AND after the downbeat is the place. So the fact that Max was able to integrate what he does within that setting so seamlessly, to play the music so impeccably, was impressive—to say the least!
Reviewer: Nasheet Waits