Monday, June 06, 2005

Max Roach - Percussion Bitter Sweet (Impulse, 1961)

Max Roach was at the height of his powers as a percussionist, composer and social activist in the late 50's and early 60's and brought together a "you-gotta-be-kidding-me" lineup of musicians including Eric Dolphy, Clifford Jordan, Abbey Lincoln (his wife at the time) Julian Priester and Mal Waldron to cut this classic album for Impulse. Most of the songs have politically oriented titles, because Roach was highly involved in the civil rights movement.

Wonderful playing abounds on this record, all of the musicians have a chance to solo, but a couple of spots really stand out. Dolphy gets a wonderfully idiosyncratic alto saxophone solo on "Mendacity" and Lincoln sings very strongly on the same tune. Priester takes a great leadoff solo on "Man From South Africa" which sets the stage for another deeply original Dolphy solo with Waldron comping underneath. Roach solos very few times, but his presence is always felt, not just in the strength of the compositions, but in the different rhythms he juggles, varying the tempo and keeping everybody on their toes. This is a wonderful record, and one of the finest political statements in all of jazz, that deserves a place in everyone's collection.

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