Clifford Brown-Max Roach: Good Bait
Max Roach - Clifford Brown Quintet
The Last Concert: Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet (Rare Live Recordings 88617)
Composed by Tadd Dameron.
Recorded: Norfolk, VA, June 18, 19 or 20, 1956 for a live WIOR radio broadcast from the Continental Restaurant
Rating: 99/100 (learn more)
When Harold Land left the quintet in November 1955 to tend to an ailing grandmother in California (he also missed his home life), Max and Clifford located the great Sonny Rollins, who was then living in a Chicago YMCA, re-evaluating his life, and practicing with none other than trumpeter Booker Little. They hired Rollins to play the Beehive Club (recordings of this exist also) and he joined the band permanently until the unexpected Pennsylvania Turnpike accident changed the quintet’s fate and direction. This is indeed the final recording of the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet, recorded live at the Continental Restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia (a place where Roach’s relatives had to sit on the stage in order to enjoy the band), just days prior to the deaths of Brown, Richie Powell, and Powell’s young wife Nancy on June 27th while driving en route to the quintet’s next engagement in Chicago. Though it was broadcast live for WIOR radio (as announced by Bob Story), this is actually a private tape done by the owners of the restaurant, which accounts for the poor sound quality (the piano is only slightly audible) and incomplete songs.
I chose this selection (they are all top notch) because Tadd Dameron figured so prominently in Brownie’s early recording career and now on his final recording. As superb as Harold Land was, the addition of Rollins to the quintet pushed it to a new level. The front line horns fed off of each other and you can hear (and feel) the empathy the two had for one another. Rollins once stated in an interview that he and Brown both felt that on this final gig, they were acting as one, breathing and phrasing together, and were constantly inspired by the thematic ideas each created. Clifford and Sonny split up the melody to “Good Bait,” with Clifford improvising into and through the final A section. They play the standard interlude over the next two A sections and Brown starts his marvelous choruses on the bridge, beginning with a march-like feel. He plays a series of florid runs, with exceptional double-timing, bluesy riffs and a good many triplets, at times seeming like he is just barely touching on the notes, as though they were raindrops hitting a tin roof. Rollins starts his five choruses by toying with the melody notes, twisting some to suit his fancy. He also explores the triplet idea introduced earlier by Brown and lays down a few humorous quotes, testing the audience’s listening skill, or maybe just amusing himself and his band mates. Powell entrenches himself in a rhythmic block chord solo and Morrow quickly falls into a two-beat feel for the remainder of his solo in which Powell runs a gamut of quotes, including “I’m Beginning To See The Light” and the “Old Irish Washer Woman.” George Morrow’s bass solo fades in his first chorus—once again, he doesn’t get his proper due!
The quintet had a few days off following this engagement and were to reconvene in Chicago for a job at the Blue Note Club commencing on June 27th. Clifford’s wife LaRue had traveled to California to show off their new son, one of the few times she didn’t travel with her husband on the road. Roach and Powell returned to New York and on June 22nd, the band made the fabulous Saxophone Colossus album together. Brown spent a few well deserved days with family and friends in Wilmington, then, on June 26th, called his wife for her birthday and their anniversary, went to the racetrack and enjoyed a good soul food dinner prepared by his sister Geneva at his parents' home. Pleading that he didn’t want to go, he hesitantly drove his car up to Philadelphia, reportedly played the early Music City jam session, picked up Richie Powell and his wife Nancy, and started out toward Chicago on a rainy summer night. Powell’s near-sighted wife lost control of the car near Bedford, Pennsylvania, and the trio hit a bridge abutment over Route 220, careening down an embankment to their demise. Roach and Rollins were already in Chicago when they received the tragic news—Max retreated to his room with a bottle of cognac, and remembered, while Sonny simply played his saxophone all night long in his room. LaRue was now a widow and Clifford, Jr., was now an orphan. Clifford Brown’s trumpet was silenced for good, with only these fantastic recordings to speak on behalf of his greatness.
Reviewer: Al Hood