Max Roach-Clifford Brown: Love Is A Many Splendored Thing

Clifford Brown And Max Roach At Basin Street is one of the albums that I played along with the most when I was younger, and—along with Round Midnight by Miles with Philly, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, John Coltrane’s Crescent, and Horace Silver’s Silver’s Serenade, among others—it’s one of the classic albums that anybody who is interested in pursuing a career in the music really needs to check out. Even though it was only together for about a year, it’s one of Max’s most important bands, with Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown on the front line. I love the arrangements and the way that band played together. The stuff was tight. It was a true band—a perfect example of the best. I hate to use that sort of terminology, but that’s the way I feel about it. These cats were executing at such a high level, and the music was so refreshing. It’s still refreshing, to this day.

This one starts off with a little, one-bar intro on the bell of the cymbal, and then they go into five, and then come the solos—Clifford, Sonny, Richie Powell, and Max. One thing that attracts me to this take is the way Richie Powell plays coming out of Max’s solo going back into the top of the song. It’s a seamless transition, like they’re coming together from different places, right into the theme.

It’s important that they were playing in 5/4 in 1956. In American culture most music is in four. It’s just those 5 beats, but with a little lopsided feeling. Now, if we were raised in India or Iraq, we would be accustomed to feeling those rhythms—but we’re not. So the fact that they were using it in “popular music” meant something in pushing the music forward—initiating something that hadn’t been widely accepted, as happened when Dave Brubeck did did “Take Five” a few years later. So this is an important document in terms of recorded history. Once an idea is documented, it becomes a possibility. If you were a younger musician in 1956 listening to this for the first time, it may have been the first time you’d heard someone do it, or play a different time signature—and the presentation is so beautiful. Max was part of so many movements where he was ahead of his time, or pointing to the future, part of the vanguard of musicians who always did something challenging.

October 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown-Max Roach: Blues Walk

When the Max Roach-Clifford Brown Quintet formed in the spring of 1954, Sonny Stitt was its first saxophone player. Not able to support three leaders, this group as such only lasted a few weeks, with Stitt being replaced initially by Teddy Edwards, and he by Land. Sonny left behind a wonderful blues riff tune for the quintet’s repertoire, one that he recorded under the title “Loose Walk” in 1952. Why it has been attributed to Brown is a mystery, since he would never have knowingly taken credit for another’s creative contribution. This particular arrangement, albeit simple, gets to the heart of what the Max Roach-Clifford Brown aggregation was all about—excitement, dynamics, hearty swing and coherence of improvisational thought. It offers the listener the true spirit of jazz in such a way that tugs at their emotions by organizing well-placed moments of tension and release into the overall presentation. It wasn’t to be just a ‘blowing session’ left to chance.

The arrangement is simple enough in its execution, but what the players do within that framework is the true genius. The medium-up punchy riff tune is repeated twice, and Brown has the break into the first solo. He intermixes blues-inflected passages with those that take the twists and turns of a studied bebop master. He builds tension to his fourth and fifth choruses where Land plays a background riff that adds to the tension. Relief comes on the sixth chorus, as Brown backs down again and builds toward the next climax. His seven choruses lead into Land’s eight, where a similar approach is employed, Brown riffing on the fifth and sixth choruses. Land has a wonderful ‘barking’ quality to his tone and, complements Brown’s phrases wonderfully. Powell builds his six-chorus solo to a polyrhythmic frenzy by the final chorus, then hands it to the ensemble which plays a four-bar send off to Roach’s drum solo. The sendoff happens again and Max takes another five solo drum choruses that lead smoothly into a series of trading by the horns. These interchanges are some of the most exciting in recorded jazz. Two choruses of fours lead into a chorus of twos, a chorus of ones, and a chorus of half-bar improvisations. It is a tremendously difficult task for an improviser to coordinate these short interplays into coherent, flowing lines, but these musicians do it admirably. If you compare this to the alternate take, you can hear how things can go quickly awry if the timing happens to get away from you! Clifford misses the downbeat of the melody out, but it in no way detracts from the excitement of the moment. This is recorded jazz done in a brilliant and thrilling fashion.

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown-Sarah Vaughan: September Song

Sarah Vaughan met and heard Brownie while he was a member of Chris Powell and His Five Blue Flames, and claimed to have ‘discovered’ him at the Apollo Theater. She broached the topic of recording together, Powell recalls, but the session didn’t take place until this date two years later while both were part of EmArcy’s artist roster. Brown’s widow LaRue always noted how much Clifford admired and listened to Vaughan and owned many of her records. That comes as no surprise when you hear Clifford play a ballad or interpret a melody, always eliciting a vocal approach.

Here, Vaughan gives special treatment to Kurt Weill’s show tune “September Song.” A beautiful introduction with flute, tenor saxophone and cup-muted trumpet over a bowed bass approximates a morning sunrise, setting up Vaughan’s solo melody entrance. She portrays the lyrics perfectly, displaying a quick vibrato (which can take some getting used to for a few listeners), impeccable pitch, and occasional use of her deep, rich low-register notes, all accompanied empathetically by “Vice Prez” Quinichette on the tenor saxophone far in the background. Her playfulness with the intonation, seeming to ‘get there’ at just the right time, also helps her to massage certain melody notes and bait the listener to lead them right where she so chooses. Clifford enters with a rare recorded cup-mute solo, conjuring up at once ‘Fats’ Navarro and a bluesy Charlie Parker. His phrases seem to dance through the tune, barely ever touching the ground. His melodic quotient is so high that the solo seems pre-composed and his emphatic delivery makes one feel every piercing note. Brown often slips effortlessly into double-timing and his syncopations are sometimes suspended rhythmically across strong beats and bar lines. It is a monumental solo. Mann takes eight on the flute and really does not know what do to with the tune, sounding rather lost. In his defense, I would not be envious of anyone who had to follow Clifford’s initial statement. Brown comes back for eight more, and, at the conclusion of his solo, Vaughan enters with a melismatic display so fresh that it is the highlight of the song, if not the whole album. She finishes the tune leaving the listener with a sense of great optimism.

History has called this session one of Sarah Vaughan’s finest. LaRue agrees—she was there. She remembers the moment she broke into tears when the romantic Clifford cocked his head and pointed at her as Vaughan began vocalizing “I’m Glad There Is You.”

July 03, 2009 · 0 comments

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Dinah Washington: You Don't Know What Love Is

Though she tends to take a backseat to Lady Day and Sassy in most jazz criticism, it’s difficult to find anything to criticize on Dinah Washington’s 1955 session for Norman Granz. Washington’s delivery, while every bit as knowing as Holiday’s, emerges from a place of confidence and resilience rather than fragility and despair. Supported by Galbraith’s solo guitar work on the opening lines and thereafter by Quincy Jones’ arrangement of an all-star horn section, with a wonderful solo by Jimmy Cleveland, Dinah delivers a hopefully defiant interpretation of this Raye-DePaul standard, belying an undercurrent of raw emotion that tells the listener she knows exactly what love—and jazz—is.

December 22, 2007 · 1 comment

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Dinah Washington: There is No Greater Love

Forget the frills. Dinah Washington would just plant her feet and belt a song, lustily and often tongue in cheek. Here, before an appreciative studio audience, Dinah rattles the rafters with a normally tranquil ballad. When Dinah declaims (with diction as precise as Nat King Cole's) "There is no greater love / Than what I feel for you," it's plain that if you dare doubt her, she'll come smack you upside the head to prove her affection. Dinah was a delight.

November 06, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown & Max Roach: Delilah

Brown & Roach hitch the Biblical temptress’ slithery theme from Victor Young’s score for C.B. (Cast of Thousands!) DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949) to the indigo mood of Duke Ellington’s "Caravan," featuring Max’s mallets and Clifford’s cup mute. Their salute to the patron saint of barbers then swings
into 4/4, as Max switches to sticks, Clifford opens his horn and tenorman Harold Land takes to the air.
Mr. DeMille, we are ready for the pillars to be pulled down. Delilahtful!

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown & Max Roach: Sandu

From his recording debut on March 21, 1952 to his tragic death on June 26, 1956, Clifford Brown executed some of the most remarkably crafted improvisations in jazz history. Most of these classic performances occurred when Brown formed a partnership with Roach in November, 1953 that lasted until the trumpeter’s death. The early 1955 sessions that became known as Study in Brown feature many classic Brownie/Roach performances, most notably “Cherokee” and “Jacqui.” Brown's classic composition "Sandu" features brilliant improvisational phrasing in the transitions from swung eighths to straight sixteenths throughout his solo.

October 25, 2007 · 0 comments

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Clifford Brown & Max Roach: What is This Thing Called Love

Clifford Brown had it all—all the range a trumpeter could wish for, a powerful and rich tone and infallible technique. He was as fiery at breakneck tempos as he was tender on ballads. Tragically, he had not yet realized his full potential when he died in a car accident at the age of 25. Brown is heard here at his peak, explosive yet under constant control. His lines unfold effortlessly and cohesively with natural momentum and his ideas are projected with unparalleled clarity. A true gem and a necessity for any jazz enthusiast.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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